No New Trial for Death Row Inmate, Troy Davis

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Georgia State Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Monday, March 17, 2008, to deny a motion for a new trial for Troy Anthony Davis, who claims he is on death row for a crime he did not commit.

A Chatham County jury sentenced Davis to death in 1991 for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. The prosecution used only eyewitness testimony, as the murder weapon was never found to match fingerprints or DNA.

While Davis has been engaged in a series of grueling appeals, seven of nine witnesses have either recanted or changed their testimony.

Davis’s attorneys submitted sworn affidavits to the Georgia Supreme Court in November 2007 and argued their client is a victim of mistaken identity.

But the Court ruled in Monday’s decision that this new evidence is not enough for a new trial.

“In weighing this new evidence, we do not ignore the testimony presented at trial, and, in fact, we favor that original testimony over the new,” Justice Harold Melton wrote in the majority opinion.

The Court favored the original testimony because it was closer to the time of the crime when witnesses were more likely to have better memories of the event.

“Most of the witnesses to the crime who have allegedly recanted have merely stated that they now do not feel able to identity the shooter,” Melton wrote.

“Even the statements about the alleged admissions [new affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles] themselves contain evidence that they are not trustworthy, as the statements show that Coles was someone who wanted to be feared and that at least one of the persons to whom he made his admissions doubted his account,” Melton added.

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) and other supporters held a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday to denounce the Court’s ruling.

“With this decision, the [Georgia] Supreme Court turns its back on the fundamental flaws that taint Mr. Davis’s conviction,” Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Director for AIUSA, said.

AIUSA angrily denounced the Court’s decision to focus on technicalities rather than the new evidence.

“One by one, the Georgia Supreme Court ignored each recanted statement in favor of such technicalities as the lack of a notary stamp and that Troy Davis did not show he was right-handed,” Feuer said.

Feuer noted the Court did not consider the fact Davis lacked sufficient legal support at trial and during initial phases of his appeals.

“In fact, the Court holds Mr. Davis’s inadequate, state-provided counsel against him, by refusing to consider new evidence because of delays in presentation.”

Chief Justice Leah Sears, writing the dissenting opinion, said she “would order the trial court to conduct a hearing, to weigh the credibility of Davis’s new evidence, and to exercise its discretion in determining if the new evidence would create the probability of a different outcome if a new trial were held.”

Sears argued the Court is “overly rigid” in its approach to extraordinary motions for new trials based on new evidence.

“It is unwise and unnecessary to make a categorical rule that recantations may never be considered in support of an extraordinary motion for new trial,” Sears wrote.

“If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically,” she added.

Sears believes technicalities raised by the majority, such as the fact several affidavits lack notary stamps, “seem well suited to being addressed by the trial court in a hearing.”

“Even if the affidavits affected by these issues were discounted, I still believe a hearing on the remaining new evidence would be warranted,” Sears wrote.

Martina Davis-Correia, sister of Troy Davis, said Monday the Court’s decision is “stunning, to say the least.”

“But we are here today because nothing can shake our faith,” she said. “We’ve been down this road before and we are ready for what lies ahead.”

Davis, who received a stay of execution in July 2007 from the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles (GBPP) as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, is quickly running out of options.

AIUSA is calling on the GBPP to commute Davis’s death sentence based on “the troubling facts of the conviction.”

“The Board of Pardons must recognize that a blind adherence to technicalities cannot trump a concerted search for the truth, especially when a human being’s life is at stake,” Larry Cox, Executive Director of AIUSA, said in a statement obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

Feuer said the Board must “fulfill its role as the failsafe of justice and stop the State from taking the life of a man who may well be innocent.”

Davis-Correia held back tears as she thanked the thousands around the world who have come out to support her brother.

“As we continue on this journey, we will find strength in the bonds of our family and our faith in God, until our prayers are answered and my brother gets justice,” she said.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndication 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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