Pardons Board Grant Davis 90 Days Stay of Execution (UPDATE 1)

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(APN) SAVANNAH — Troy Anthony Davis, a death row inmate in Georgia received a 90 day stay, just hours before his scheduled execution, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

“I’m exhausted but elated,” Martina Correia, Davis’s sister, told Atlanta Progressive News. “They were asking a lot of questions and were engaging. They were so respectful for the family. We had this perception, we’ve always been treated so badly because of what he’s accused of.”

“There was so much doubt in this case. They saw that today. Troy was calling my mother. She was sitting wrapped in a blanket. The lawyer called and said there was a 90 day stay. Troy said he was so thankful and he got on his knees to thank God,” Correia said.

“He’s relieved he’s not gonna be killed, but he had made his peace with God. They moved him to Death Watch today. He said we fought a good fight. Let’s remember the McPhail [victim’s] family and pray for peace and understanding,” Correia said.

“We were just asking for them to be fair and objective. If any other court would’ve stepped up and examined any of this, we wouldn’t have gotten this far. And they’re actually doing what the Court system should’ve done long ago,” Correia said.

“WHEREAS, earlier today… the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, having received an application for clemency of Troy Anthony Davis, considered the clemency application, argument, testimony, and opinion in support of clemency and all other known facts and circumstances…” a press release from the State said.

“WHEREAS, the Members of the… Board… will not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused…”

“WHEREAS, those representing… Davis have asserted they can and will present live witnesses and other evidence to the members of the Board to support their contention that there remains some doubt as to his guilt… IT IS HEREBY ORDERED the execution… be and hereby is suspended until midnight of October 14, 2007, or until this Board issues an order…”

The meeting of Davis’s lawyers and supporters with the Board lasted from 9am until 3:15pm today, thus about six hours. After this, the Board met with state prosecutors.

“My impression is there so much material to go through today they didn’t feel prepared. It does give them time to continue examining the facts. They still have a responsibility and a duty to consider clemency. One thing that could happen, there is an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, that could kick in before they make any kind of decision,” Laura Moye, Deputy Director of Amnesty International USA Southern Regional Office, told Atlanta Progressive News.

“We feel it means that hope is still alive that justice can still be done. But it doesn’t mean that we have a victory. It just means there is more time,” Moye said.

It also means additional time to increase public awareness about the case and issues at stake. “You’re gonna see continued interest, because some people are late coming to this story,” Moye said.

“I could just guess–that the pressure was so intense that they didn’t feel ready to make a decision yet. Or they didn’t want people to think they were rushing to a judgment,” Moye said.

“The legal team was not able to produce all the witnesses in person. Four witnesses came. But they do have the affidavits [for all witnesses],” Moye said.

US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) was among those who spoke in support of Davis at the hearing today. US Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) also offered to speak in support of Davis, spokesperson Deb Speights told APN.

In the days up until the scheduled execution of Davis, advocates converged 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.

The International Action Center of Atlanta and others staged a recent protest. Family members held a candlelight vigil. 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 was convicted of murdering a Savannah, Georgia, police officer in 1989. No physical evidence or murder weapon was ever presented in Davis’s case.

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. After a state judge declined to overturn the original ruling, and attorneys today appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

That case is still pending.

“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 still hoping for a reprieve from either the Court or the Board, his sister 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.

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 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 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.

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.

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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Our syndicaton policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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