Give Troy Anthony Davis a new trial
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Friday, June 26, 2009
Atlanta Journal Constitution
The clock is ticking for death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering his final appeal and could decide any day whether to hear the case.
The state of Georgia claims Davis committed murder almost 20 years ago, but no physical evidence links him to the crime. No gun was ever found.
No DNA evidence was ever discovered. Without any physical evidence, eyewitness testimony is the foundation of his conviction.
However, seven of the nine central witnesses have now either changed or contradicted their testimony. Several say they were coerced.
One witness says she signed a statement swearing to Davis' guilt, even though she could not read. Some evidence points to one of the witnesses as the murderer.
Davis constantly maintains his innocence.
We know our criminal justice system is not perfect. There is nothing new about that.
In recent years, many states have suspended executions due to DNA evidence that suggested they could be executing a significant number of innocent people.
Recent research by a University of Virginia law professor, Brandon Garrett, reveals the inaccurate testimony of eyewitnesses can lead to wrongful conviction in almost 80 percent of cases where people are later exonerated.
What should be of great concern to most Americans is that in this nation which sees justice as one of its primary goals, in the Davis case where so much evidence points to the real possibility of a faulty conviction, this man cannot get a new trial.
It is possible Davis will be sent to his death without ever having a judge or jury examine whether this new evidence proves his innocence.
A technicality that limits the number of appeals a death row inmate can make has made it lawful for federal and Georgia appeals judges to refuse ordering a new hearing or a new trial.
Respected world citizens have voiced their concerns - Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter, former Congressman Bob Barr, U.S. attorneys, attorneys general.
His sister, Martina Correia, has traveled the country, even addressed the European Union on his behalf.
Amnesty International has waged an international campaign, and the NAACP has issued a call to action.
There are even death penalty advocates, like former FBI Director William Sessions, who say that in the name of justice we owe Davis another day in court.
There is one more relevant factor to consider. Should the fact that a police officer was the victim in this case, that his family had suffered endlessly due to these appeals, alter any of our conclusions?
My heart goes out to the family of Officer Mark McPhail who has suffered, not only due to the wrongful death of a devoted father and husband, but also due to the inability of government to resolve this case justly.
I share the deepest concern for police officers who are cut down by violence everyday trying to defend the law. Yet, their sacrifice can only be honored by our highest integrity.
Because government has determined to defend itself, instead of defending what is right, no one can find peace and the call for a new trial has only gotten louder.
Justice could silence all opposition. Injustice has prolonged this debate.
I am hoping that the Supreme Court, the governor of Georgia or the Chatham County district attorney will have the courage to follow the lead of Attorney General Eric Holder. When he believed the government had fostered injustice in Sen. Ted Stevens' case, he took action.
We the people through our representatives in government still have the opportunity to do what is right.
I hope we will not allow ourselves to believe that adherence to the letter of the law is sufficient moral cover for the execution of a man who may be innocent.
I hope we will not convince ourselves as a nation that two wrongs will finally make this right.
As a citizen of this nation and a believer that justice can prevail, I hope someone with the power will have the courage to stand up.
If we fail to act, if we allow Davis to be executed without ever granting him a new trial, the state of Georgia and we as a nation will be complicit in a violation of human rights we can never, ever repair.
Without justice, there is no peace.