Troy Davis loses another round

I have been waiting for some indication from the federal Supreme Court before blogging on the Troy Davis case.  So far nothing. 

Two weeks ago, a federal panel of judges refused to grant Mr. Davis a hearing to present evidence of innocence that has never seen the inside of a courtroom.

This commentary from Jill Peterson of Augusta, calls upon Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to intervene on Troy’s behalf. 

That’s a long shot.  Perdue rode to victory on a promise to restore the old Georgia state flag–a banner proudly dominated by the stars and bars.  Since then, Perdue has lacked the political will to follow through on his promise.  This suggests that he was just playing demagogue for political gain.  Can you expect political courage from a man indebted to the “back to Dixie” crowd? 

The Davis case proves that the legal system values finality over fact.  It isn’t hard to see why criminal justice professionals love finality.  With new cases being stacked on their desks every day they have neither the time or the energy to revisit the past.  Once a man is convicted he needs to stay convicted–the appearance of an appeals process notwithstanding, the system isn’t designed for do-overs.

I can’t prove that Troy Davis is innocent and the state of Georgia no longer has the evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (even to the satisfaction of an all-white jury).  But they appeared to have the evidence twenty years ago and that’s all they need.

The Davis case shows how the state can cobble together a superficially convincing case.  By issuing dire threats guilded with promises of leniency, investigators can manipulate vulnerable “witnesses” into signing statements.  Once a statement is signed the person must testify on pain of perjury.  Stack up six or seven of these people and a jury will convict.

When you have a black defendant and a white victim the death penalty is a foregone conclusion.  Conversely, if you have a black victim and a white defendant the chances of an execution are approximately zero.

Troy Davis needs a chance to set the record straight.  Judge Rosemary Barkett, the dissenting judge in last month’s in the three judge panel that denied Davis a hearing last month, wrote, “to execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

Amen to that.  Now our only hope is that the same Supreme Court that already refused to intervene will change its mind.

You might also be interested in this Alternet piece by Troy Davis’ sister.

Governor has a chance to serve justice in Troy Davis case

by Jill Peterson, April 27th 09:57am

Governor Perdue can allow us a baseball stadium, but can he halt the execution of an innocent man? According to Georgia law, no, but the case of Troy Davis is compelling enough that pressure will likely be put on him to do something.

On April 16, a federal appeals court decided not to grant death row inmate Troy Davis a hearing to present evidence of innocence that has yet to be considered by a court.

Davis was arrested in 1989 for the murder of a police officer in Savannah. The officer was responding to calls for help from a drunken homeless man who was being pistol whipped over his beer when the attacker shot the officer once and then stood over him to shoot again.

The police department was naturally interested when Sylvester “Red” Colesmade a visit to the station the next day (withhis attorney) with not only a tip, but a name- Troy Anthony Davis.

Morris Publishing’s Savannah Morning News ran Davis’s photo withthe words “cop killer” before the police had even had a chance to question Davis. Davis went in voluntarily to talk to the police and never came back out. He has been on death row for nearly twenty years. In fact, he’s been scheduled for execution three times now, coming within hours of the needle- close enough to have gotten a pre-execution enema.

The postponements are not exactly fancy legal wrangling by Davis. He should be so lucky. Public defense is horribly overloaded in Georgia to the point that Davis was without proper representation as crucial deadlines for appeals came and went, and courts have consistently denied him new trials on procedural grounds. Davis’s executions have been resisted by huge public protest and not only from anti-death penalty advocates. This execution is also denounced by such toughies as Libertarian Presidential Candidate Bob Barr and former FBI Director William F. Sessions. The dissenting judge in the panel of three last week, Judge Rosemary Barkett, wrote, “to execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

What is it about this case that gets so much attention from around the world?

It’s a long story, but in short, the case against Troy Davis leaves a heavy shadow of doubt. No physical evidence links Davis to the murder; he was convicted on the testimony of nine witnesses’ accounts. New evidence that Davis would like to have heard includes recantations (at the risk of being found guilty of perjury) from seven of those nine witnesses, some citing police coercion. Some of the recantations and additional testimony from new witnesses implicate Red Coles. There are also letters from some of the very jurors who had called for Davis’s death saying they would have found differently if they’d had access to all the information.

Two witnesses have not recanted their testimony. One is a man who told police just hours after the incident that he wouldn’t be able to recognize the killer’s face, but he was sure that the shooter used a shiny gun.

(Interestingly, Red Coles was known to carry a chrome plated .38- the same caliber as the gun that was used in the murder.) The first time this man ever identified Troy Davis was at trial after having seen Davis’s photo in the newspaper.

The other witness sticking to his story is Red Coles.

The court has granted Davis thirty days to try for the U.S. Supreme Court which has already turned down the chance to consider his case once earlier this session. If the Court doesn’t decide to hear his case, Georgia may execute as early as June.