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The Troy Davis case: Will America execute another innocent?

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troy_davis.jpgBy Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media

Barring a last minute stay of execution by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles in a last ditch hearing scheduled for September 19, accused Savannah, Ga. cop killer Troy Anthony Davis will be executed.

If the execution goes forth, the question must be asked: Did Georgia execute an innocent man?

Dead men literally tell no tales, and the guilt or possible innocence of Davis will go with him to his grave. The possibility of innocence is hardly a stretch. More than a dozen death row inmates have been released in the past two decades as a result of DNA evidence. A legion of other death row inmates have been released because of prosecutorial misconduct that resulted in retrials and acquittals, or pardons after mountainous evidence was presented that cast major doubt on their guilt.

The Davis case is a near textbook example of a death penalty case that reaches nowhere near the oft stated but much abused constitutional high bar of conviction, namely: beyond a reasonable doubt.

The facts in his case are well-known. There was no murder weapon or physical evidence linking Davis to the murder, and a score of witnesses that originally implicated Davis as the shooter recanted their testimony.

The witnesses, as in most cases where defendants are convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony, later claimed that they lied because they were scared stiff by police coercion, harassment and threats. Others cut deals with police and prosecutors to walk free or to get lighter sentences for their own crimes. And yet others have long and dubious reputations as jailhouse snitches that prosecutor's parade to the witness stand to finger a defendant, again in exchange for leniency.

The Innocence Project has noted that overzealous and untruthful prosecutors have been know to suppress, fabricate, and destroy evidence, as well as employ lying jailhouse snitches, and untruthful witnesses.

Many of the cases have been riddled with racial bias. The condemned killer was black or Latino and their alleged victim was white. Troy Anthony Davis is black. When defense attorneys appeal these tainted convictions, the courts almost always dismiss their appeals on the grounds that the prosecutor committed "harmless errors" that didn't affect the outcome of the case. The Texas execution of Ruben Cantu in 1993 for a murder he allegedly committed as a teen was a classic case of how a possibly innocent man can be executed.

Davis has fought hard to prove that he was indeed the victim of a colossal frame-up. The best that he's been able to do is to push back the date with the executioner. He's had several stays and even a retrial. But it's just bought time, precious time.

Davis, if it can be called that, is lucky. His fight and the possibility of his innocence have made him a cause célèbre. All prison reform groups, the NAACP and notables from President Jimmy Carter to Pope Benedict have spoken out against killing Davis. Many other prisoners who do not have the notoriety, press attention and the money, but have demonstrated serious questions, even doubts about their guilt, languish on America's death rows.

And that's not likely to change. In 1996, when Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, legislation that toughened the death penalty to combat terrorist acts, it reduced appeals and made it harder to get new trials. The year before that Congress slashed millions in funds for post-conviction public interest and legal interest groups to help inmates such as Davis file appeals.

In every doubtful case, prosecutors hotly deny that any of the men executed are innocent. Despite the questionable executions, no prosecutor, nor government official, has ever officially said that an innocent prisoner has been executed. The Chatham County prosecutors and the Georgia state Attorney General that prosecuted and have fought to execute Davis flatly say that Davis is a cop killer who deserves to die.

But despite prosecutors' vehement defense of themselves in these questionable cases some officials and judges have strongly hinted and warned that it is possible for an innocent person to be executed. In 1997, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee praised the system of legal checks and balances in place to insure that the rights of condemned killers are fully protected, but admitted that there was no ironclad guarantee that an innocent person could not be put to death.

That's little consolation for Davis if indeed the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles turns thumbs down on his appeal for clemency. If Davis keeps his date with the executioner this time, the question will always linger whether he was yet another horrific example of America possibly executing an innocent man.

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re: The Troy Davis case: Will America execute another innocent?

Having been a citizen of Georgia and Chatham County (for a short time, thank God), I have no doubt that it is possible, indeed highly likely, that cops threatened and coerced citizens to lie for their case. In 2001, my wife tried to get a perjury charge lodged against a cop that lied under oath, as shown by a videotape made in an earlier meeting. The investigating officer told her, "Lady, you can go ahead with this if you want, but don't be surprised if someone breaks in your house, and no one comes when you call 911". On another ocassion, when my wife complained about unconstitutional behavior on the part of a uniformed thug, she was told, "This is Georgia and we are the law. The Consitution does not apply here". IMHO, Sherman did not go far enough when he launched his urban renewal project in 1864. He should have killed every man, woman and child in the state, sowed the soil with salt and poisoned the rivers.

re: The Troy Davis case: Will America execute another innocent?

When in doubt, we must wait. No ifs ands or buts about it. I am a supporter of the death penalty, but this is too close for comfort people.

re: The Troy Davis case: Will America execute another innocent?

Was given a retrial and nothing changed. Why do all the witnesses point him out in 1991 and now 20 years later change thier minds? He is guilty.

re: The Troy Davis case: Will America execute another innocent?

There is no way that this many influential people in thisd world that would stick uop for a murderer if Troy Davis was not innocent. I feel sorry for the policeman's family but how can they live with themselves when so much has happened with this case to see that Troy Davis is innocent. What has the State Georgia become when we they are basically going back I believe to the linching of innocent blacks and whites. It is a basic linching in so many people's eyes that have researched this case and honestly and truthfully believe in this man's innocence. Why why is noone listening that would sould save an innocent man is my main question? What have they become as human beings with no heart and rational??? I pray that this death of Troy Davis does not happen and true justice is served. Why is not the policeman's family asking for the real person be found that killed their family member. Is just anyone going to appease them in their anger and hurt? Their are so many guilty also that go untouched also. this copuntry seriously needs to lok at our justice system and do the work that they are paid for. A lot do this but a lot do not. I p[ray that the President steps in and at least has this case thoroughly reviewed and that true justice is served!! JDemers