(IPS) Family of Troy Davis Hopeful for Pardon

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This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service website at: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105046.  This article includes some material previously used in a September 07, 2011, article in Atlanta Progressive News, adding a new interview with Martina Correia.

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ATLANTA, Georgia, Sep 9, 2011 (IPS) – Troy Davis, the Georgia man whose death row case has drawn international attention, has again been scheduled for execution for Sep. 21, but advocates hope to convince the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant last-minute clemency.

Davis was convicted of shooting a police officer, Mark MacPhail, in Savannah in 1989, but since then, seven of nine witnesses have recanted their testimony against him, and two other witnesses have implicated another individual as the murderer.

This is the fourth time Davis has had an execution date, although at this point, supporters fear that he has probably exhausted his appeals – either he will be pardoned or he will be executed.

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered an extraordinary hearing in the trial court as to whether Davis could prove his innocence claims. But the trial court ruled against Davis, setting him back on a path where a new execution date was only a matter of time.

“I knew it was coming. I’m not shocked,” Martina Correia, Davis’s sister and strongest advocate, told IPS. Correia, who has been battling cancer for 10 years, has been in the hospital for several days due to complications from a chemotherapy drug, but granted the rare interview.

There will be a Global Day of Action for Troy Davis on Sep. 16 in Atlanta and other cities around the world, and Correia says she will be there whether someone has to push her in a wheelchair or drive her in on the back of a truck.

“We’re sad, but we’ve been here before. In the past two years, the coalition has grown beyond what we could have ever imagined. We’re gonna fight. We believe in Troy’s innocence,” Correia said.

Correia said she had just spoken with Davis, and that “he is in good spirits”.

“He’s more concerned about the family than he is about himself,” she said. “He’s ready for this fight. We’re holding on to our faith and we believe it’s going to be a good outcome.”

Meanwhile, advocacy groups like Amnesty International, Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the International Action Center, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are mobilising.

“We are focused right now on educating people about the doubts that continue to persist, encouraging people to make concerns heard to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, who has the ability to weigh in and prevent the execution and really step in in a situation where the legal process has failed to alleviate some doubts that Troy Davis is guilty for a crime for which he could pay with his life,” Laura Moye, death penalty abolition campaign director for Amnesty International USA, told IPS.

“The Board has very wide discretion at what they can look to to grant relief, they are not confined by the narrow parametres of the legal process, this narrow focus on process and procedure that has hampered Troy’s ability to have his innocence claims taken seriously,” Moye said.

“The Parole Board in 2009 said they would not execute when there’s doubt. There’s more than minimal doubt in Troy’s case,” Correia said. “There’s so many unanswered questions.”

Despite the fact that the Board previously ruled against Davis, there are at least two factors which may lead to a different ruling this time. First, three of the five Board members are new to the Board and have not heard Davis’s case before. And second, there are two new witnesses who have implicated another man as the culprit, who have not yet testified before the Board.

One witness, Benjamin Gordon, implicated his relative, Sylvester Coles, as the killer. Meanwhile, another woman says she witnessed Coles admitting to her that he shot MacPhail.

When the Supreme Court granted Davis a hearing in the trial court on his innocence claims, Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, calling the new hearing a “fool’s errand”. In retrospect, it appears to some extent, he was right.

“The problem with the legal system… is it has been so focused on procedure, it hasn’t been asking a more fundamental question, which is, can we rely on the conviction?” Moye said.

“Troy Davis was given an enormous task of proving innocence at the evidentiary hearing in Savannah last summer. He was given a task that was almost impossible to achieve without physical evidence, and with witnesses that the judge didn’t want to believe,” Moye said.

Davis first faced execution in July 2007, but the Board granted a 90- day stay on Jul. 16 so it could review Davis’s case further. In the meantime, the Supreme Court of Georgia granted a review of Davis’s case, which Davis later lost. The Board later also ruled against Davis.

Davis faced execution a second time in September 2008, but the Supreme Court granted a stay on Sep. 23, to allow time to consider an appeal on the question of whether to grant a new trial, which was later rejected.

Davis then faced execution again a third time in October 2008, but the 11th federal circuit court stayed the execution on Oct. 24 on grounds connected to Davis’s innocence claims, which were legally different than his appeals or requests for a new trial.

“Psychologically, it must be a torturous process to have someone repeatedly come close to their death. Most murders aren’t even like that,” Moye said.

(END/2011)

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