Brenda Forrest was a juror at Troy Davis’s trial for murder in Savannah, Georgia, twenty years ago. “He was definitely guilty,” she recalled in an interview with CNN in 2009. “All of the witnesses—they were able to ID him as the person who actually did it.” But that was in 1991. “If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row,” Forrest said. “The verdict would be: not guilty.”
What does Forrest know now that she didn’t know when she and her fellow jurors sentenced Davis to death for the 1989 murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail?
She likely knows that seven of the nine eyewitnesses who testified against Davis have since recanted or contradicted their testimonies, many of them alleging that they were pressured or coerced by the police into implicating Davis.
She probably knows that the ballistics testing that was used by the prosecution to link Davis to the crime was later discredited in a 2007 report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
She doubtless also knows that a number of other witnesses have come forward implicating another man as the real shooter.
Despite all that Brenda Forrest knows, authorities in the state of Georgia have slated Troy Davis to die by lethal injection on Wednesday, September 21 at 7 pm. The only thing that could stop the execution is the State Board of Pardons and Parole. Davis’s clemency hearing is on Monday, September 19.
Georgia is one of just three states in which the power to grant clemency does not lie with the governor. Instead, the governor appoints a five-member Board of Pardons and Parole, which considers each case before a prisoner is put to death. Georgia has carried out fifty-one executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976; in that same period of time, five Georgia death row inmates have been exonerated and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole has granted clemency seven times.
“I think [clemency] is an absolute moral and legal necessity in this case,” says Georgia State University College of Law professor Anne Emanuel, “if for no other reason than it is so terribly unfair to the jurors themselves, to allow this death penalty to proceed when the evidence on which they relied has now been disproved, and some of it withdrawn by the State itself." Emmanuel chaired the 2006 American Bar Association Georgia Death Penalty Assessment Report, which identified numerous problems in Georgia’s death penalty system, including inadequate defense counsel, racial disparities, and problematic jury instruction. “I find this conviction and this sentencing so troubling,” she says of Davis’s case.