Activists Fight Davis Execution with Four Days Left

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(APN) ATLANTA — With only four days until the execution of Troy Anthony Davis, advocates are converging to save a man whose guilt seems uncertain, even unlikely, now that 7 of 9 witnesses have recanted in his case, and new witnesses have implicated another man.

US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has announced his support. The International Action Center of Atlanta and others staged a recent protest. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper’s editorial board criticized the pending execution. Even a former FBI Director under right-wing President Ronald Reagan, William Sessions, wrote a column in support of Davis.

“It would be intolerable to execute an innocent man. It would be equally intolerable to execute a man without his claims of innocence ever being considered by the courts or by the executive,” Sessions wrote.

Davis and his attorneys will appear before Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles on July 16, 2007, one day before his scheduled execution date, to present their evidence that could possibly clear Davis of murdering a Savannah, Georgia, police officer in 1989, and to ask for clemency. No physical evidence or murder weapon was ever presented in Davis’s case.

“We ask the parole board to do the right thing and give justice to Troy Davis,” Helen Butler, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, said at a recent press conference where 4,000 letters were delivered to the Board.

Attorneys for Davis have also filed a motion for a new trial in state court, since the Supreme Court of the US recently refused to hear his case and he exhausted his federal appeals. Shortly before press time, APN received word the judge declined to overturn the original ruling, and attorneys are now planning to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.

“Georgia law allows you to go back and say the world has changed so dramatically. It’s like a safety valve, it tends not to work very often. But in most cases, you don’t have dramatic new evidence,” Philip Horton, pro bono attorney with Arnold and Porter law firm, said.

Davis is hoping for a reprieve from either the Court or the Board, but the execution preparations have already started, his sister said.

“He tries to stay in a place of positive energy. He’s fasting. It’s very stressful for him. He’s a very strong person and he’s very prayerful. But it’s kind of hard cause they had an execution three weeks ago. The guys on the row when there’s execution they get really nervous. They’re petrified, if you could get executed and they don’t have any evidence, what do you think they’re gonna do to us?” Correia said.

“He got letters from South Korea, Africa, he has hundreds of letters. He wants to make sure to answer all of his letters and he’s so thankful they want to save his life,” Correia said.

“Some of the witnesses did get the opportunity to talk to Troy on the telephone and tell him they’re sorry. They were young [at the time]. They were breaking down crying. Troy told him he had to forgive them long ago. You’ve got people who lied and their conscience is just eating away at them because they know they lied,” Correia said.

“And you got people the courts won’t even listen to, the new witnesses. There’s still people who say, we don’t care about the evidence, we still want you killed,” Correia said.

The shocking case–which has finally captured corporate media attention in these final days–reflects a much more systemic problem in the United States, where procedural technicalities have become more important to many judges than innocence or guilt itself.

“The procedural aspects of it are incredibly complicated. The federal courts are generally pretty hostile to these so-called post-conviction proceedings. They’ve set up a whole bunch of traps for the unwary. If you fail to do x, you waive your rights. Most of these things wouldn’t occur to ordinary people. It’s real easy to waive your rights,” Horton said.

Davis did not have good public legal representation in his original trial due to lack of funding from the State of Georgia. Moreover, several witnesses recanted their testimony after the fact.

“The first response of the courts is to say, be that as it may, it’s too late for it now because you failed to raise it in time, or you failed to do something else,” Horton said, describing what is called a procedural bar or procedural default.

“The courts don’t decide it on the merits. They decide the claim can no longer be raised,” Horton said.

“The evidence of guilt has all crumbled. We end up going to court after court saying, look at this new evidence. And the courts say no because under these complex procedural rules… Each time the court says, we aren’t rejecting your evidence [on merit],” Horton said.

“When the prosecutors are asked about this in the press, they say they presented this evidence already to court after court after court. This is the way the game is played. The public doesn’t have a clue,” Horton said.

“I think it is misleading because they’re trying to say, because the courts have walked through the motions, somehow Troy has had all his chances,” Laura Moye, Deputy Director of Amnesty International USA Southern Regional Office, said.

Moye speculates that the courts are more interested in “self-preservation” than innocence.

“When you have a situation where the person has such strong innocence claims and a string of witnesses recant, and one court after another procedurally bars that information from being heard, you have to ask why do they keep dismissing on procedural technicalities? Why aren’t they interested in whether justice has been served and whether innocent people are on death row?” Moye said.

“The stakes are high for the people who run this judicial system. It’s very high for the prosecutors,” Moye said.

Several of the witnesses who recanted also said they were pressured by police into implicating Davis, and that they were threatened with possibly being charged themselves if they didn’t cooperate.

“They said we’ve got Troy and maybe we’ll come after you as an accomplice,” Horton describes of witnesses’ recantations.

“Most of these witnesses were African American who were young and easily intimated. Or one who had issues with the law, easily manipulated. She said at the time, I’m pregnant, I have 4 kids. I can’t go back to jail,” Moye said.

The restrictive laws which prevent courts from considering new evidence are contained in the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The Act has dramatically undermined habeus corpus in the US.

US Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Artur Davis (D-AL) told The Hill newspaper, in Washington, DC, that the 1996 AEDPA should be revisited, but they know of no current efforts to do so.

This article contains additional reporting by Jonathan Springston, Senior Staff Writer, Atlanta Progressive News

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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