January 13, 2008
Interesting Innocence Case in Georgia
CrimProf Deirdre O'Connor, Director of the Indigent Criminal Defense Clinic at Emory, recently informed me of an innocence case in Georgia that has been getting a lot of national press.
The case involves Troy Davis, who is a GA death row inmate who has maintained his innocence for the past 18 years. There was no physical evidence linking him to the shooting death of an off-duty police officer and 7 of the 9 trial witnesses (5 eyewitnesses and 2 snitches) have since recanted. In addition, 9 other witnesses have implicated another man (Redd Coles) as the shooter.
Troy came within 24 hours of execution before the GA Board of Pardons and Paroles gave him a 90 day stay. During the stay, the GA S. Ct. decided by a 4/3 vote to hear his appeal for an extraordinary motion for a new trial based on the recantations and affidavits of witnesses implicating Redd Coles. Oral arguments were heard on November 13, 2007 and a ruling is expected any time between now and April 20, 2008.
Here is an excerpt from an earlier article about the case in NYTimes.com: A man convicted of murder based on no physical evidence and solely on the eyewitness testimony, of which 7 out of the 9 witnesses have now recanted, will have his day in front of the Clemency Board Monday.
The man convicted of shooting a police officer in 1989, Troy A. Davis, is likely to be the focus of an unusual clemency hearing before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. On Monday, the board is to hear the case of Mr. Davis, 38, who was sentenced to death in 1991 for the killing.
Though prosecutors have considered the case solved for nearly two decades, a chorus of eyewitnesses say the police arrested the wrong man. Now, on the eve of execution, scheduled for Tuesday, they have joined his family and his lawyers in an effort to get the courts to hear new evidence they say proves he is innocent.
With no physical evidence — the murder weapon was never found — prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses who took the stand against Mr. Davis.
But since his trial, seven of the nine have recanted or changed their testimony, saying they were harassed and pressed by investigators to lie under oath. Other witnesses have come forward identifying a different man as the shooter.
But because of a 1996 federal law intended to streamline the legal process in death penalty cases, courts have ruled it is too late in the appeals process to introduce new evidence and, so far, have refused to hear it.
Legal experts, including William S. Sessions, a retired federal judge, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a self-described supporter of the death penalty, have sounded the alarm over Mr. Davis’s case. They say it underscores the many ways the death penalty is unevenly and wrongly applied, particularly in the South, the region with the most death penalty cases.
“It would be intolerable to execute an innocent man,” Mr. Sessions wrote in an op-ed article for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It would be equally intolerable to execute a man without his claims of innocence ever being considered by the courts or by the executive.”
Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, is expected to testify at the clemency hearing Monday.
In addition to the hearing, lawyers for Mr. Davis asked for a new trial, but on Friday, Judge Penny Haas Freesemann of Chatham County Superior Court in Savannah denied the bid. Mr. Davis’s lawyers told The Associated Press that they would appeal to the state Supreme Court.
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