Last week, Laura Moye, Director of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, traveled to Nashville to speak to students at Belmont University about the troubling case of Troy Davis. Troy’s mother, Virginia, was to have accompanied Laura to speak about her son’s case, but Mrs. Davis died suddenly just a few days before she was to arrive. Her sudden death at 65 is a sad reminder of the toll the death penalty takes on all those who are impacted by it.
Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 for the 1989 shooting of police officer, Mark Allen MacPhail, in Savannah, Georgia. Officer MacPhail had been working off-duty as a security officer at a Greyhound bus station. A homeless man had been beaten unconscious outside the adjoining Burger King. Officer MacPhail came running to his aid and was then shot by the person who had pistol-whipped the homeless man. An aggressive search for the perpetrator ensued, particularly intensive because the murder victim was a police officer.
Troy Davis was presented as an early suspect. The case against him relied on witness testimony, which has since unraveled. Ballistics found at the crime scene were offered at trial. Shell casings were linked to a non-fatal shooting earlier that evening that was pinned to Davis; however, no murder weapon was ever found. The GBI later held that the ballistics were not conclusive evidence, and the shooting victim has asserted that Davis was not the gunman. Since 1991, seven of the nine non-police witnesses against Davis have recanted or contradicted their trial testimony. The two remaining witnesses include a man who could not identify the shooter until the trial (two years after the crime) and initially felt certain only of the color of the shooter’s clothes. The other was the first to implicate Davis to the police, but has since been implicated as the actual perpetrator by more than nine witnesses in sworn affidavits.
In 2007, Davis received his first execution date following the denial of an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Since then he has been on a rollercoaster of execution dates, stays of executions and various court proceedings. A breakthrough came in September 2009, when the US Supreme Court ordered an unprecedented evidentiary hearing tasking him with the extraordinary charge of proving his innocence. That hearing, held by the federal district court in Savannah, took place in June 2010. Davis’ lawyers brought in several of the trial witnesses who admitted to giving false testimony, some alleging pressure from police. They also brought in witnesses against the chief alternative suspect, including a new eyewitness who is the relative of this suspect. Davis’ legal team still had no benefit of physical evidence to make their case. They had to rely on witnesses, including some, who at the time of the MacPhail murder and today, have criminal records. The state brought in several police officers and the former district attorney and his assistant, all of whom maintained that the investigation and prosecution they participated in was regular and without fault.
In August, the judge who oversaw the hearing ruled against Davis. Ultimately, he did not accept the credibility of the very witnesses used to convict Davis and made a judgment based on an “extraordinarily high standard” for “establishing innocence.” He expressed disappointment that Davis’s lawyers did not call the alternative suspect, though his lawyers submitted an affidavit demonstrating their attempt to serve him a subpoena. Davis’ test was to prove his innocence, not to establish serious doubts about his guilt or that a jury would not be able to convict him today. Interestingly, some of the original trial jurors have said that they would not have convicted Davis had they know what they know today. The judge’s ruling was lengthy and harshly worded; however, he admits that “the state’s case [against Davis] may not be ironclad.” Davis filed an appeal and a petition with the US Supreme Court challenging the ruling but was recently denied. Now, it is up to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole to decide whether or not to commute his death sentence.
With such extraordinary doubt in this case, we hope that you will consider signing on to Amnesty International’s petition asking for a commutation of Troy’s death sentence. An execution date could be set at any time so please act quickly.
Pictured above Denver Schimming, Laura Moye, Belmont students, and Stacy Rector
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