In an article appearing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on June 21, former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Norman S. Fletcher, reflects on the legacy of retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, specifically as it relates to the troubling case of Troy Davis.
Last August, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a federal district court to hold a hearing on the new evidence in the Davis case. Davis was sent to death row for the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail based solely on eyewitness testimony. Since his conviction, most of those witnesses have recanted their testimony, some saying that they were coerced. Several new witnesses have also come forward pointing to another suspect. In ordering this hearing Justice Stevens stated, “The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing.”
Judge Fletcher goes on to say that he served on the Georgia Supreme Court when the Davis appeal came before it in 1993. The court upheld Davis’ conviction. However, that appeal was made before several of the witnesses had recanted. Fletcher was not on the court when it rejected, by a 4-3 vote, Davis’ extraordinary motion for a new trial in March 2008. Fletcher states in the article, “The court did not order an evidentiary hearing. If I had been on that court, the vote might have been 4-3 the other way.”
He continues by saying that Justice Stevens leadership in ensuring a hearing for Troy Davis on the new evidence in this case is a victory for the idea that innocence does matter. I think most of us would agree with this notion, regardless of our feelings on the death penalty. Innocence matters–it matters more than procedure or arbitrary time frames for hearing new evidence. When the state is planning to take a person’s life, innocence always matters.
Thanks to Norman Fletcher for his willingness to speak out and to stand up, not merely for the letter of the law, but for the spirit of the law as well.
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