Monday, March 28, 2011
The Supreme Court, without a noted dissent, on Monday cleared the way for the state of Georgia to carry out the execution of Troy Anthony Davis of Savannah, rejecting five different ways that Davis’s lawyers had sought to press his claim that he did not commit a 1989 murder of an off-duty policeman. In three brief orders, none of which contained any explanation, the Court brought to a sudden end a two-decades-long campaign to spare Davis’s life, on the theories that most of those who testified against him have recanted and that another man did the killing, and has since admitted it.
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The Davis case is one of the most highly visible cases amid scores of them in recent years, claiming wrongful convictions, especially in murder cases. The most unusual fact of the Davis case was that, for the first time in nearly a half-century, the Supreme Court itself explicitly ordered a federal judge to go over the evidence to test Davis’s claim that he did not commit the crime that occurred in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant and bus station in Savannah on the night of August 19, 1989.
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In turning aside all legal requests, the Court bypassed a chance to answer two fundamental questions that the Court has never answered explicitly about convicted individuals’ claims of innocence: one, whether the Constitution bars the execution of an individual who is actually innocent of the crime, and, two, what standard of proof are federal judges to use in judging whether an individual actually is innocent. In Judge Moore’s decision, he ruled that it would be unconstitutional to execute someone who is actually innocent, but set a fairly tough standard of proof; applying that standard, he found that Davis is not innocent. On Monday, that decision became final.