New Troy Davis hearing this week in cop's death
By mailto:email@example.com Bill Rankin
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
12:00 p.m. Monday, June 21, 2010
Troy Anthony Davis returns this week to Savannah,
where he was convicted and sentenced to death
almost two decades ago for killing an off-duty
police officer during a late-night melee in a Burger King parking lot.
For more than a decade, Davis has sought to
present his claims of innocence, including the
recantations of seven key prosecution witnesses,
in court. On Wednesday, in U.S. District Court in
Savannah, thanks to an extraordinary ruling last
year by the nation's highest court, he will finally get that chance.
Davis' innocence claims have attracted
international attention, including calls from
former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict
XVI that he be spared from execution. Last
August, for the first time in nearly half a
century, and the first time ever in a
death-penalty case, the U.S. Supreme Court took a
case filed directly to its docket. It accepted
Davis' last-ditch plea because Davis had exhausted all his appeals.
The high court ordered a federal judge to convene
a hearing and take evidence to determine whether
Davis' new claims "clearly establish" his
innocence -- a high legal threshold to overcome.
Justice John Paul Stevens noted that no state or
federal court had heard the new testimony and
assessed its reliability. "The substantial risk
of putting an innocent man to death clearly
provides an adequate justification for holding an
evidentiary hearing," wrote Stevens, who was
joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice
Clarence Thomas, dissented, calling the hearing a
"fool's errand" because Davis' innocence claim is "a sure loser."
Davis lost two prior challenges to his conviction
and death sentence by razor-thin margins. In
2008, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected Davis'
bid by a 4-3 vote and, a year later, the federal
appeals court in Atlanta denied his appeal by a 2-1 vote.
In recent years, Davis' scheduled execution has
been halted three times shortly before it was to
be carried out -- on one occasion just two hours
before he was to be put to death by lethal injection.
U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr., who
will hear the case, is not expected to make an
immediate ruling. He has instructed parties that
he wants them to file legal briefs after the
hearing is over. He also told the lawyers that
because he has already read the trial record and
the legal pleadings in the case, he expects them
to come to his courtroom and "immediately" enter
into the presentation of evidence.
"Certainly, Mr. Davis and his attorneys have a
very difficult burden ahead of them," said Howard
Bashman, a Philadelphia attorney who operates a
Web site devoted entirely to appellate
litigation. "They have to show far more than
there are serious doubts over the validity of the
conviction. They have to show that the new
evidence clearly establishes Mr. Davis' innocence."
Davis sits on death row for the Aug. 19, 1989,
killing of Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. MacPhail
was gunned down after he ran to the fast-food
restaurant parking lot after hearing pleas from a
homeless man who was being pistol-whipped.
MacPhail, 27, was shot multiple times before he
was able to unholster his weapon.
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A Visit with Troy Davis
States | Posted by:
Moye, June 21, 2010 at 9:57 AM
This Wednesday, an amazingly historic hearing
will begin here in Savannah, Georgia where I will
be all week. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the
Savannah federal district court to hold an
evidentiary hearing to give death row prisoner
Davis an opportunity to present his innocence claim.
Troy Davis' sister Martina Correia with Laura
Moye outside Georgia Diagnostic and
Classification Prison where death row is housed in Jackson, Georgia
I visited Troy along with his family yesterday
and asked him how he was doing. He seemed fairly
calm, but not sure how to feel. His life has
been on a rollercoaster ride ever since he was
implicated for the murder of a police officer
twenty-one years ago. Three years ago, when
Amnesty International first started campaigning
intensively on his case, an execution was
scheduled then stayed. This happened two more
times in the next two years. I’m not sure how I
would feel either given the ups and downs of our
justice system. But I did detect hope, which he
has held onto these nineteen years on death row.
This was my second visit to Troy. It was a
strange place to be on Father’s Day. But once I
walked through the numerous double-gated areas to
find the Davis family gathered around him, it
felt oddly normal to be in their midst on this
family-oriented holiday. Troy was playing jokes
on his two-year old niece, a bundle of energy
that the whole Davis clan watches over and dotes
on so fondly. He has clearly been a source of
support for his teenage nephew whom he checks on
regularly to ensure he’s doing well in
school. And it’s this remarkable family, so full
of love and commitment to each other, and to
their faith, that accounts for the life that
remains in Troy’s eyes, despite all that he has faced.
The hearing is a serious opportunity for the
doors of justice to open, but it won’t be
easy. He’ll have to prove that he is
innocent. In a trial, the state would have the
burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable
doubt. And just what this legal standard of
“clearly establishing innocence” means is a
matter for the judge at the hearing to determine.
I hope to get a seat in the courtroom while the
hearing is under way; though, there are likely to
be throngs of people wanting to get in. I
sincerely hope that the hearing will shed more
light on what happened the night of the tragic
murder of off-duty police officer Mark
MacPhail. Both families have been waiting for
justice and it’s time for the doubts to be addressed.
It is very sad that Troy’s family has had to
think about the possibility of losing someone
they love, someone who is clearly an active
participant in their lives. Being in the prison
reminded me of how the death penalty creates more
victims – the innocent families of the
accused. I have no idea what Father’s Day is
like for the MacPhail’s and I wouldn’t pretend to
know. Justice has been a long time coming for
them too. And I really don’t know what to expect
this week as the hearing draws closer, but I
sincerely hope that learning more of the truth
will lead to a more robust justice and help the
healing of both families and of the larger community.