More than 50 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter sent to Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles Monday, urging it to stop the scheduled execution Troy Anthony Davis and shift his sentence from death to life in prison.
In the letter, Democratic Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson of Georgia maintain that there are “considerable doubts” about Davis’ guilt in connection with the killing of an off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer in 1989.
“This is one of those exceptional instances where adhering to the letter of the law could lead the state of Georgia to commit a grave injustice,” Lewis said. “That is why it is important for people of goodwill to stand together and speak out in this case. The parole board has the power to intervene on the people’s behalf to right a deplorable wrong, especially when there is so much room for doubt about this conviction. I believe the board seeks to do what is just and look forward prayerfully to the upcoming clemency hearing with the faith that justice will prevail.”
Click here to sign Color of Change’s petition asking the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole to spare Davis’ life.
Davis’ case has generated international attention because a number of key prosecution witnesses have either recounted or moved away from their initial trial testimony. In addition, other witnesses have stepped forward and said another man at the crime scene told them he was really the killer.
In all, more than 60,000 people – including Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, activist Harry Belafonte and former FBI head William Sessions – have signed a petition agreeing that there’s too much reasonable doubt to proceed with Davis’ execution.
Still, a federal judge last month soundly rejected assertions that Davis was wrongly convicted. U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore said in 172-page order that Davis failed to prove his innocence during a hearing that was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now Davis is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, Sept. 21. The Board of Pardons and Parole is supposed to hold a clemency hearing for Davis on Monday, Sept. 19 – the final appeal in the case. Prayer vigils in Atlanta have been planned for that day. A march from Atlanta’s Woodruff Park to Ebenezer Baptist Church is planned for the same week.
“As a criminal defense attorney, judge and member of the House Judiciary Committee,” Johnson said, “it disturbs me to my core that an unnecessary and unjust killing may take place. If we execute a man despite new evidence that casts doubt on his guilt, it shakes the public’s faith in the integrity of justice in Georgia.”
In addition to U.S. lawmakers, human rights organizations have taken up Davis’ cause. Like Lewis and Johnson, Amnesty International believes that there’s insufficient evidence to execute Davis.
“The Board stayed Davis’ execution in 2007, stating that capital punishment was not an option when doubt about guilt remained,” said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA’s executive director. “Since then, two more execution dates have come and gone, and there is still little clarity, much less proof, that Davis committed any crime. Amnesty International respectfully asks the Board to commute Davis’ sentence to life and prevent Georgia from making a catastrophic mistake.”
In their letter, Lewis and Johnson said that Davis’ life is squarely in Georgia’s hands.
“The state prerogative of clemency exists for those cases that fall through the cracks, to prevent potentially grave injustices when our judicial system cannot,” they wrote. “This is just such a case, and the power of clemency resides in your hands. Commuting Troy Davis’ sentence would surely allay people’s fears that Georgia would contemplate executing a potentially innocent man.”
The letter by Lewis and Johnson was signed by most of the 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Other signees include Reps. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Jose Serrano of New York, and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Lewis and Johnson have been fighting to stop Davis’ execution since 2007. So convinced of the possibility of an unjust execution in this case, Lewis made a rare appearance before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles in 2007 to speak on Davis’s behalf. Both lawmakers have also visited Davis at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Savannah to speak to him personally about the case.