Parole Board Denies Clemency for Troy Davis
With additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale.
(APN) ATLANTA — The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency Friday afternoon, September 12, 2008, for death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis, even though his attorneys and supporters argue there is far too much doubt to carry out an execution.
The five-member Board heard arguments from the defense in the morning and from the prosecution in the afternoon. Neither the press nor the general public, outside of close friends and family, were allowed in the room to hear arguments.
The Board issued a brief statement and the denial of commutation order on its website Friday but neither document listed any specific reasons why members reached their decision.
Davis’s attorneys filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the US in the hope that justices will take up the case; this could be the last remaining hope for Davis.
Activists are also trying to reach out to the State Attorney General, Governor, US Attorneys, and others to get them to look into the case, Martina Correia, Davis’s sister, told Atlanta Progressive News. Activists are scrambling to re-strategize after Friday’s disappointing announcement.
“There was some kind of backdoor deal with the prosecutor,” Correia said, explaining she believes that is the case because “they said they would not execute with any doubt.”
After all the presentations made to Board, both Friday and months ago, “there was a lot of reasonable doubt then,” Correia said.
“They made a decision and made a press conference 30 minutes after the prosecution finished presenting. They already had their minds set up and this hearing is just a farce because there’s so much international attention on the case,” Correia said.
“It’s obvious they have no morals, no scruples, I don’t know how they sleep at night,” Correia said.
“At the beginning of the hearing the first thing [Board Member] Gale Buckner said, there is so much information to review, they would not be making their decision today, that they would take their time to discuss it and vote independently,” Correia recalled.
“There’s no way to have gone and discussed the evidence in 15 minutes, so there’s something very foul on that Board,” Correia said.
Correia said she believed the Board, which contains former Georgia Bureau of Investigations agents and a former prosecutor, was upset that the defense witnesses claimed they were coerced into testifying against Davis years ago.
“It irritated the Board, the things the prosecutors told them [the witnesses] to get their story. They didn’t like that this was being said about the prosecutors,” Correia said.
Board Member Buckner is a former GBI agent; Milton E. “Buddy” Nix is a former GBI Director. Robert Keller is a former prosecuting attorney.
“Keller, he had a man that was exonerated that he convicted to life without parole, so he knows this can happen,” Correia said.
Indeed, Keller was the prosecuting attorney in the case of Calvin Johnson, a man who served 15 years for a rape it was later determined he did not commit.
“[Board Member Garland] Hunt kept trying to get the witnesses to say Black men carry guns. He kept saying, don’t you all carry guns? This witness didn’t even know my brother. He was trying to get the witness to say that because Black men carry guns that [Davis] carried a gun,” Correia said.
Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) and Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP), two groups who have rallied national and international support for Davis, issued strong statements denouncing the Board’s decision.
“Nobody in that Parole Board room could have walked out today knowing with certainty that Davis committed murder,” Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Director for AIUSA, who attended the clemency hearing, said in a statement obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.
“The parole board went against its pledge to prevent the execution of any person where there is doubt as to his guilt,” Feuer said.
This is the second time in just over a year that the Board has considered Davis’s case. The Board issued a 90-day stay of execution last July just hours before Davis was to be executed by lethal injection.
At that time, Members indicated they would not let Davis’s execution move forward unless there was no doubt that Davis committed the crime.
“We are horrified and ashamed as Georgians to see our state revealing its blood thirst by executing Troy Davis, when so many questions remain on whether or not he is innocent,” Sara Totonchi, chair of GFADP, said. “Proceeding with the execution of Troy Davis is callous, careless, and irreversible.”
Davis’s attorneys argue that Davis is not guilty of the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail and that an execution cannot take place with so much lingering doubt.
Since Davis’s 1991 trial, seven of nine witnesses used by the prosecution to obtain a conviction have either recanted or changed their original testimony in sworn affidavits.
These revelations, combined with the fact that no murder weapon, fingerprints, or DNA exist to link Davis to the crime, had lead defense attorneys to call for a new trial in round after round of appeals.
“There’s more than just doubt – there’s reasonable doubt,” Jason Ewart, lead defense attorney, said Friday after presenting evidence to the Board.
“It is baffling that this decision could have been rendered in a case that has completely unraveled, and is now leaving a shameful stain on Georgia’s reputation,” Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA, said in a release.
“The U.S. Supreme Court must intervene immediately and unequivocally to prevent this perversion of justice,” Cox said.
“We’re outraged,” Laura Moye, member of GFADP, told Atlanta Progressive News. “We cannot believe the parole board is allowing the execution to go forward under so many questions of doubt. We are truly shocked.”
Supporters of Davis delivered 20,000 petitions to the Board on Thursday, September 11, 2008, just a fraction of the 200,000 AIUSA says they have collected from all over the world seeking clemency for Davis.
Later on Thursday, several hundred supporters turned out at a rally for Davis in front of the Capitol. Attendees held signs, donned t-shirts reading “I am Troy Davis,” and chanted slogans like “No justice, no peace.”
“I thought that they were phenomenal,” Correia said of the advocates. “This denial against Troy is only going to make them more stronger.”
“I don’t see how any reasonable person could see how Troy Davis could be executed,” Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, said in a speech. “Too many things don’t add up. There’s too many questions, too many doubts.”
Warnock is one of 200 concerned religious leaders from Georgia, the United States, and abroad to sign a letter sent to the Board in addition to the 20,000 petitions.
AIUSA director Cox on Thursday chastised the Georgia General Assembly in a speech for what he called its willingness to “turn a deaf ear to the cries for improvements to the criminal justice system” by failing to vote on a bill that would have improved eyewitness identification procedures and by making cuts to indigent defense.
Several state lawmakers, including State Reps. Stephanie Benfield, the sponsor of the eyewitness reform legislation; Roger Bruce; Alisha Thomas Morgan; and State Sen. Vincent Fort attended Thursday’s rally.
Fort, a GFADP Board Member, expressed sadness on Friday over the Board’s decision.
“It’s a tragedy,” he told Atlanta Progressive News. “[The Board] has ignored the fact the recantations of seven of nine eyewitnesses ought to count for something. Evidence should matter. Innocence should matter.”
Supporters held a prayer vigil throughout the day Friday in front of the Floyd Building downtown where the Board held the clemency hearing.
GFADP is planning to hold vigils all across Georgia on September 23 in protest of the scheduled execution that evening.
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Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at email@example.com. Matthew Cardinale, News Editor, is reachable is firstname.lastname@example.org
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