The level of doubt surrounding the conviction of death row inmate Troy Davis is so much stronger than the evidence used to find him guilty that a stay of execution is the only reasonable decision, according to former FBI Director William Sessions.
“In 2007, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a stay of execution for Davis and took the admirable position that it would ‘not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.’
Click here to hear Jacque Reid’s recent “Inside Her Story” interview with Troy Davis’ sister, Kim, about his case.
Click here to sign Color of Change’s petition asking the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole to spare Troy Davis’ life.
Click here for more information on the march in Atlanta taking place Friday night.
“Because this case continues to be permeated by doubt, the Board of Pardons and Paroles’ stance continues to be the right one,” Sessions wrote in an op-ed piece in Thursday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Sessions served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“What quickly will become apparent is that serious questions about Davis’ guilt, highlighted by witness recantations, allegations of police coercion and a lack of relevant physical evidence, continue to plague his conviction. Last summer, an extraordinary hearing ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to answer these questions instead left us with more doubt,” Sessions wrote.
Earlier this month, a Chatham County judge signed the death warrant for Davis, the fourth time since 2007 that the state has a scheduled an execution for him. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution in March by rejecting an appeal by Davis seeking a new trial.
A group of 27 former judges and prosecutors, including Sessions, former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, and former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, asked the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 for the rare innocence hearing to “prevent a potential miscarriage of justice.”
All of Davis’ appeals have been exhausted, but his lawyer said they would ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles for clemency. The five-member panel has the power to commute or postpone executions, but rarely does so.
Davis is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Meanwhile, rallies are scheduled for today and Monday to lobby the pardons board, and the NAACP and Amnesty International launched petition campaigns – including a call by the NAACP urging the public to use Facebook and Twitter to sign the petition – to do likewise.
A march calling for clemency takes place tonight at 6 p.m. in Atlanta, beginning from Woodruff Park, at Peachtree St. NE and Edgewood Ave., heading down Auburn Avenue to Ebenezer Baptist Church, located at 407 Auburn Ave. NE. According to Amnestry International’s web site, the procession will be led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous, AIUSA Executive Director Larry Cox and Antone De’Jaun Correia, Troy Davis’ nephew.
Davis was convicted in 1991 of killing Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah, Georgia police officer, largely on the basis of eyewitness testimony, but seven of the nine witnesses who implicated Davis recanted during an evidentiary hearing to determine if Davis – who had no previous criminal record – would get a new trial. Other witnesses testified that another man confessed to killing MacPhail.
Restrictions on federal appeals prevented Davis from having a hearing in federal court on the reliability of the witness testimony used against him. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles also rejected Davis’ application for clemency. An appellate court stayed Davis’ execution date so that his lawyers could file the appeals to the Supreme Court, which ultimately rejected Davis’ appeal.
“Some of these same witnesses also had testified at Davis’ trial but have since recanted their trial testimony. The judge at the evidentiary hearing found their recantations to be unreliable and, therefore, found Davis was unable to “clearly establish” his innocence,” Sessions wrote in the op-ed piece. “The problem is that the testimony of these same witnesses, whom the judge had determined were less believable, had been essential to the original conviction and death sentence.”
“What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case — consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements — is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis’ guilt or his innocence,” Sessions said in the article, which called for clemency for Davis.
“In reality,” he wrote, “there will always be cases, including capital cases, in which doubts about guilt cannot be erased to an acceptable level of certainty. The Davis case is one of these, and it is for cases like this that executive clemency exists.”