(IPS) US Supreme Court Holds Back Davis Executioners
This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service at: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=38332
ATLANTA, Georgia, Sep 24 (IPS) – The U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of execution for Georgia death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis, less than two hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday night.
Justices will meet on Sep. 29 to decide whether to hear an appeal of a Georgia Supreme Court decision denying Davis’s petition for a new trial or court hearing to hear fresh evidence.
Family and friends were visiting Davis on death row in Jackson to express their final farewells when news of the temporary reprieve was announced.
Rallies, symbolic protests and vigils were also being held across the state as the minutes ticked towards the scheduled hour of execution. These were organised by rights groups and anti-death penalty organisations, including Amnesty International (AIUSA), Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
Later, several dozen campaigners gathered at the state capitol in Atlanta to express joy and relief at the court’s decision.
“We are deeply grateful for this stay of execution for Troy Davis and we very much appreciate that the merits of his case for innocence are being taken seriously by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Sara Totonchi, chair of GFADP, said.
Davis, 39, has been on death row since 1991 for the murder of Georgia police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989. Prosecutors used eyewitness testimony to obtain a conviction but produced no physical evidence or murder weapon connecting Davis to the crime.
Since the conviction, seven of nine witnesses have either changed or recanted their original testimony in sworn affidavits. Those who have changed their testimony say police coerced them into implicating Davis.
While the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in March that these recantations were insufficient to warrant a new trial, Davis’s attorneys and supporters argue that the new evidence left too much doubt to carry out an execution.
“We are prayerful that the court system will act to spare Troy Davis’s life in light of the numerous questions about the validity of his conviction,” Totonchi said.
If U.S. Supreme Court justices decided to take up Davis’s appeal, the case could begin in October with a decision expected next spring, according to Jared Feuer, southern regional director of AIUSA. Davis’s stay of execution would remain in place while they heard the case.
But if justices refused to hear the appeal, the stay would be lifted and a new execution date could be set in a matter of weeks.
“We hope that [the Supreme Court] takes up the case and looks at it with fresh eyes,” said Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA. If it did, it would be “the first time evidence pointing to Davis’s innocence will have been heard in a court of law”.
This is the second time in just over a year Davis has avoided execution. In July 2007, the Georgia board of pardons and paroles granted a stay of execution, less than 24 hours before Davis was scheduled to die.
Davis’s attorneys and supporters were puzzled and outraged when the Chatham County superior court issued a death warrant and the commissioner of the Georgia department of corrections set an execution date earlier this month. They did this before attorneys had a chance to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is in recess until Monday.
“For reasons that are unfathomable, Chatham County officials seemed doggedly determined to ram this execution through before justice could fully run its course,” Cox said.
The parole board denied clemency for Davis on Sep 12. Twenty-four hours before the scheduled execution, the parole board issued a statement reaffirming its decision and the Georgia Supreme Court ruled it would not take up the case.
“We didn’t think we’d be fighting in September like we have been fighting,” Laura Moye, member of GFADP, said.
The Davis case has received national and international attention.
Appeals for his life have come from many civil rights activists, including Rev Al Sharpton, former president Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict XVI, and lawmakers in Georgia and across the U.S.
AIUSA says it has collected over 200,000 signatures appealing for clemency.
“I can’t tell you how many random phone calls we’re getting from all over the world,” Moye told IPS. “This case is touching people in many ways.”
Supporters used letters, emails, text messages, and phone calls this month to increase pressure on the parole board, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, the courts, and other state authorities.
While rights activists are encouraged by the Supreme Court’s temporary stay of execution, they are urging everyone to continue their campaign to save Davis’s life.
“This is a long term struggle and we need your support,” Moye said. “We’re going to keep fighting until there is justice for Troy Davis.”
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