(IPS) US Supreme Court Rejects Troy Davis Appeal after New Hearing

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This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service at: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55050

ATLANTA, Georgia, Mar 29, 2011 (IPS) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that it would not hear an appeal by death row inmate Troy Davis, in what could be the end of the legal road for the Georgia prisoner whose case has garnered international support.

The Court had granted Davis an extraordinary opportunity in August 2009 for a new hearing in the lower federal court to determine whether he could receive a new trial, after his attorneys presented the justices with an innocence claim.

Davis was convicted in 1989 for the murder of police officer Mark McPhail. There was no physical evidence of his guilt, and no weapon was ever found.

Seven out of nine of the original witnesses who testified against Davis have since recanted, putting Davis’s guilt strongly in doubt. The case has attracted global attention, including from Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Al Sharpton, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Davis’s lawyers are currently reviewing whether they have any legal recourse left. If Davis is again scheduled for execution in the state of Georgia – he has been scheduled three previous times – he will be able to appeal to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, another long shot.

“It’s not over until God says it’s over,” Kimberly Davis, one of Troy Davis’s sisters, told IPS by telephone. “We’re standing strong on our faith and we’re not going to give up. Because God did not bring us this far to leave us.”

The High Court’s response was very brief: “The appeal is dismissed, and the petition for a writ of habeas corpus and a common law writ of certiorari is denied.”

A two-fold appeal

At this point, Davis’s attorneys were making a two-fold appeal, which was filed with the Supreme Court in January 2011.

First, Davis was appealing the decision from the new evidentiary hearing he received in August 2010, in which Federal Judge William T. Moore decided Davis had failed to clearly establish his innocence.

Second, Davis was appealing the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in November 2010, where the court stated it was doubtful as to whether it had jurisdiction to hear Davis’s appeal.

Martina Correia, another of Davis’s sisters, noted that there have been significant changes in the U.S. Supreme Court over the last two years.

Notably, Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the strongest critics of the death penalty, retired in June 2010.

“The dynamic of the court has changed. We lost Justice Stevens, who changed his views on the death penalty and has been very vocal. We have two new members. We actually lost the majority that we had,” Correia said, referring to the majority that remanded Davis’s case back to the federal court two years ago.

While both judicial appointments were made by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, Correia noted that no one knew where the new justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, stood on death penalty issues.

Good ‘ol boys?

Correia also said she was worried about her brother getting a fair hearing when it was announced that his new hearing would be held in the same town of Savannah, Georgia, where she claims a “Good Ol’ Boy” network protects itself.

“I was always concerned about that, and the fact they brought the case here, back to Savannah. We knew it would not be a level playing field,” Correia said.

“The judge said he would believe the police officers more than the witnesses because the witnesses had a criminal history. These are the same witnesses you used to convict Troy. Back then you were calling them Mr. and Ms. So-and-so, like they were the best thing in the world. Now you’re calling them a criminal,” she said.

According to Correia, one recanting witness testified to having been coerced by the police to say Davis was guilty, but his latest testimony was ignored.

“From time to time during the court, the judge was asleep. We’re looking at him, he’s dozing off,” Correia said.

“We’ve stood up, we’ve put ourselves out there to be exposed to the world and the court says so what, the police have more integrity than you do,” she said. “No matter what Troy’s lawyers had to present, it would never have been good enough because the judge had a preconceived notion that he wouldn’t provide relief.”

Kathryn Hamoudah, board chair of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said, “The case of Troy Davis exemplifies all that is wrong with Georgia’s death penalty system. Of grave concern is the real threat of executing an innocent person.”

“Proceeding with the execution of Troy Davis would be callous, careless and irreversible. The state should… slow down to address the well-documented, serious problems with a system that irreversibly takes human life, rather than rush to carry out an execution of a possibly innocent man,” Hamoudah said.

“Amnesty International is extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court rejected Troy Davis’s appeal,” said Laura Moye, death penalty abolition campaign director at Amnesty International USA.

According to a report released Monday by Amnesty, the death penalty is on the decline in the U.S. overall. At least 110 death sentences were imposed in the country during 2010, which is only one-third of the number of death sentences imposed in the mid-1990s and is lower than in any year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

In March, Illinois became the 16th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.

(END / 2011)

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