Justice denied again for Troy Davis

Elizabeth Schulte reports the long trail of injustices endured by Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis got a little longer.

THE GEORGIA Supreme Court isn't going to let the truth stop the state from executing an innocent man.

What you can do

You can find out more about Troy Davis' case and how you can get involved in the campaign to win justice for him at the Troy Anthony Davis Web site. AlterNet writer Liliana Segura wrote about the Georgia Supreme Court decision in "Lethal injustice: No new trial for death row prisoner Troy Davis."

See the Campaign to End the Death Penalty Web site to learn more about the struggle against capital punishment across the country. The Campaign's newsletter, the New Abolitionist, covered the stay of execution for Troy last year in "Troy Davis wins stay hours before his execution."

In a 4-to-3 vote on March 17, the court turned down an appeal for a new trial for Troy Davis, despite the fact that nearly all the eyewitnesses who testified against Davis in his original trial have recanted their stories. Many say they were coerced into implicating Davis in the first place.

Despite this, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton wrote, "We simply cannot disregard the jury's verdict in this case."

"We're shocked by this decision," said Davis' defense attorney Jason Ewart. "We've got a hard case and a close opinion. I don't think the result should be an execution."

Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 for the 1989 murder of a Savannah, Ga., police officer and given a death sentence, largely because of the testimony of eyewitnesses. No murder weapon was ever uncovered, nor was any material evidence that Davis had shot officer Mark Allen MacPhail, who was off duty and working as a security guard.

Davis came within 24 hours of execution by lethal injection in July 2007 when the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles granted him three months to present new evidence or elements in his case.

Davis and his supporters have always proclaimed his innocence. Now, many of the people who originally testified against him are standing by him, too. Five of the original witnesses for the prosecution have spoken out publicly on Davis' behalf.

Seven out of the nine eyewitnesses who originally said they saw Davis shoot MacPhail in a Burger King parking lot have recanted. Of those nine, three signed statements contradicting their identification of Davis as the shooter. Two who claimed earlier that Davis confessed to the crime have admitted they lied. One of the prosecution's star witnesses against Davis, Sylvester Coles, has since been identified by other eyewitnesses as the actual shooter.

During his trial and initial appeals, Davis lacked adequate legal defense to fight for his life. Georgia doesn't even provide lawyers for death row prisoners making their final appeals.

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OVER THE 17 years that Davis has been locked away, it has become clear that the police used every trick in the book--including coercion--to convict someone for the death of MacPhail.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in November 2007 that Dorothy Ferrell, who testified at the trial that Davis was the killer, signed an affidavit in 2000 admitting she had been on parole at the time and was afraid she'd be locked up if she didn't tell police what they wanted to hear. "I don't know which of the guys did the shooting, because I didn't see that part," she said in her statement.

Yet despite this statement and others like it that expose Davis' conviction as frame-up, the Georgia Supreme Court has decided to refuse him a new trial. Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears pointed out in her dissent: "If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically."

As Jared Feuer, the southern regional director for Amnesty International USA, said at a press conference on the day of the ruling, "With this decision, the [Georgia] Supreme Court turns its back on the fundamental flaws that taint Mr. Davis's conviction."

If Davis' life hangs in the balance as a result of the capricious judgments of Georgia courts, he is also the victim of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996--which drastically restricted the appeals process for death row prisoners, making it impossible to raise new evidence and other developments in a prisoners' defense.

Attorneys for Davis may now either file a motion of reconsideration with the Georgia Supreme Court in the next 10 days or an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court in the next 90 days.

The story of injustice in Davis' case has won him the support of numerous anti-death penalty groups, such as Amnesty International and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, as well as the ACLU of Georgia and the NAACP, and well-known figures like South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and singer Harry Belafonte.

As Troy fights for justice from inside death row, his sister, Martina Davis Correia, fights for his freedom from the outside. "We are here today because nothing can shake our faith," Correia said on the Capitol steps. "We have had years of disappointment before, but we still have fight in us. We are not giving up."