(CNN) -- On Wednesday the saga of death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis
will begin its last chapter. In an extremely rare ruling last summer,
the United States Supreme Court ordered a federal judge in Georgia to
grant Troy an evidentiary hearing to prove his innocence.
The ruling is unusual in that the Supreme Court has not granted this
writ of habeas corpus in more than 50 years. Their decision is a
strong indication that they are concerned about the constitutionality
of executing the innocent -- as am I.
Although much work still must be done in our justice system to ensure
the innocent do not pay the price of the guilty, the granting of this
evidentiary hearing is a major step for Troy Davis and for many other
likely innocent prisoners sitting on death row; Troy Davis will have
an opportunity to tell his side of the story and new evidence will be
considered in this nearly 20-year-old case.
The hearing will allow the testimony of witnesses who have recanted or
contradicted their original eyewitness testimonies to be heard and
examined in a court of law. At long last, the courts will hear
critical testimony that they were prevented from hearing in the
Troy's journey to death row began in the summer of 1989, when he was
arrested in connection with the killing of an off-duty police officer
outside a Burger King restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. Two years later
he was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime many believe he
did not commit.
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Davis almost a year ago, and I was
convinced of his innocence. My sense of his innocence is
impressionistic, but a close examination of the case indicates there
was no physical evidence that tied him to the crime, no weapon was
ever recovered and seven of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted or
changed their original testimony in sworn affidavits, citing alleged
One of the witnesses, a teenager, said the police threatened to hold
him as an accessory to murder, warning that he would "go to jail for a
long time" and would be lucky to ever get out because a police officer
had been killed.
Since that trial, several members of the jury have delivered sworn
statements to the court, indicating that their decision was based on
incomplete and unreliable evidence. Given the murky timeline of the
events in the dead of night, eyewitnesses who changed their stories,
the pressure placed on the Savannah police department to promptly
arrest and convict a "cop killer," and the alleged coercion of
witnesses, it is easy to understand why some jurors have admitted
For nearly twenty years, Mr. Davis's life has hung in the balance.
Despite the prevalence of evidence and thousands of people rallying to
save him from execution, including the NAACP, Amnesty International,
former President Jimmy Carter, actor/activist Danny Glover, former FBI
director William Sessions and conservative Congressman Bob Barr, the
courts stubbornly refused to hear Davis's claims of innocence...until
It is the unjust reality of the death penalty that in our nation that
there are more than 3,300 people withering on our nation's death rows,
men and women who are almost universally poor, disproportionately
African-American and in some cases innocent. Since 1973, according to
the Death Penalty Information Center, 138 people have been released
from death row with evidence of their innocence. Executing an innocent
person is a mistake that cannot be rectified.
We still have a long way to go before Troy has a chance at life off
death row. The standard of proof in the evidentiary hearing turns our
criminal justice system on its head. Mr. Davis will be expected to
prove his innocence rather than for the state to prove his guilt
beyond a reasonable doubt. This is especially challenging given that
the crime happened more than 20 years ago and there is no physical
evidence, such as DNA.
The Troy Davis case is the most compelling case of innocence in
decades and on June 23, 2010, I will join leaders from NAACP, Amnesty
International and other faith and community organizations in Savannah,
Georgia, lending our support to Troy and his family and offering
prayers for a favorable outcome at the hearing. We continue to work
tirelessly on behalf of Troy and the MacPhail family to bring the real
killer of Officer Mark Allen MacPhail to justice and to bring closure
to both families.
Whatever the outcome of the hearing, we will be in the trenches,
knocking on doors and holding prayer vigils in the churches of Georgia
and across the country until justice prevails for Troy Davis and for
all Americans who have been caught in the painful web of injustice.
Check out the Troy Anthony Davis website: http://troyanthonydavis.org/
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
By: Eugene Puryear
Still fighting for justice after 19 years behind bars
After 19 years on death row, two scheduled executions, innumerable court hearings, rallies and teach-ins, Troy Davis will finally get his day in court on June 23. In line with the most recent Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. Federal District Court in Savannah, Ga., will hear evidence as to Davis’s innocence. Davis was convicted in 1991 of the 1989 murder of police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. While no gun was found and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime, the prosecution produced nine witnesses who testified to Davis’s guilt.
Since that time, however, seven of the original nine prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony. Nine new witnesses have come forward to support claims of Davis’s innocence. Despite this, courts from Georgia to the U.S. Supreme Court have passed the buck, either denying Davis a hearing on the new evidence or handing off responsibility to another jurisdiction. Further hampering Davis’s efforts to have his case heard with new evidence is the fact that Georgia does not guarantee counsel for the appeals of death row inmates, leaving him until recently without effective counsel.
Davis’s case has become a rallying cry for those who oppose the racist death penalty. Tens of thousands of people around the world have recognized that the conviction of Davis fits the pattern perfectly for the racist application of the death penalty in the United States. In Georgia, specifically, the American Bar Association found a person is 4.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death for killing a white person than for killing a Black person.
It is obvious that Georgia’s legal authorities want to continue to muzzle Troy Davis to avoid exposing the reality of their sense of “justice.” With seven witnesses recanting and nine new witnesses, further investigation in the case of Davis will undoubtedly reveal police misconduct, coercion and lack of due diligence. Further, the sentence of death and prosecutors’ zeal to ignore potential exonerating evidence will go even further to show that the entire death penalty process is more about playing on racist prejudices for political reasons than finding the truth or “crime prevention.”
After 19 years on death row, more than enough potentially exonerating testimony has come to light for Troy Davis to, at the very least, receive a new hearing. To his many supporters, it is enough evidence to support his freedom.
19 years too many!
Abolish the racist death penalty!
Free Troy Davis!