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August 20 2009 | UNITED STATES


U.S. Supreme Court stays Execution and Orders Historic Hearing on Innocence Claim in Troy Davis Case.

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In parallelo al caso Keller, la Corte Suprema degli Stati Uniti ha accordato un rinvio all'esecuzione di Troy Davis, detenuto afroamericano della Georgia, da 18 anni in carcere dopo essere stato condannato a morte per l'omicidio di un poliziotto. Davis, che si è sempre proclamato estraneo al delitto, aveva chiesto più tempo per raccogliere prove della sua innocenza. Il giudice della Corte Suprema Paul Stevens ha accolto la sua richiesta, stabilendo che un giudice federale «indaghi sulla possibilità che esistano prove non considerate ai tempi del processo in grado di dimostrare l'innocenza del prigioniero».



U.S. Supreme Court Orders Historic Hearing on Innocence Claim in Troy Davis Case

 On August 17 the United States Supreme Court ordered a new evidentiary hearing for Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, whose case has drawn worldwide attention because of new evidence of his possible innocence. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Court has favorably responded to a petition directed to them, rather than as an appeal from other courts. With only two Justices dissenting, the Court ordered the lower federal court to hear Davis' evidence: "The District Court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner’s innocence."

Since Davis' initial conviction in 1991, seven of nine eyewitnesses against him have recanted their testimony. Justice John Paul Stevens, concurring with Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, wrote, "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing." He further responded to Justice Scalia's dissent, which would have denied Davis' request on narrow legal grounds, by strongly rejecting the notion that the law allows the execution of an innocent person: "[I]magine a petitioner in Davis’s situation who possesses new evidence conclusively and definitively proving, beyond any scintilla of doubt, that he is an innocent man. The dissent’s reasoning would allow such a petitioner to be put to death nonetheless. The Court correctly refuses to endorse such reasoning." An amicus brief had been filed on behalf of Davis and signed by former members of the judiciary and law enforcement officials, including former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr and the former director of the FBI William S. Sessions.


 Associated Press

GEORGIA: Supreme Court says Georgia man should get hearing

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a new hearing for death row inmate Troy Davis, whose supporters say is innocent and should be spared from execution for killing a police officer 20 years ago.

Davis has spent 18 years on death row for the 1989 slaying of Savannah, Ga., police officer Mark MacPhail. Davis' attorneys insist that he is innocent and deserves a new trial because several witnesses at his trial have recanted their testimony.

The high court ordered a federal judge in Georgia to determine whether there is evidence "that could not have been obtained at the time of trial (that) clearly establishes petitioner's innocence."

Defense lawyers had appealed to the Supreme Court after a federal court denied a new trial request in April.

"The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing," said Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer concurred with Stevens.

MacPhail was slain 20 years ago while working off-duty as a security guard at a bus station. He had rushed to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped at a nearby parking lot, and was shot twice when he approached Davis and two other men. Witnesses identified Davis as the shooter at his 1991 trial.

But Davis' lawyers say new evidence proves their client was a victim of mistaken identity. They say three people who did not testify at Davis' trial have said another man confessed to the killing.

The case has attracted worldwide attention, with calls to stop Davis' execution from former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Desmond Tutu.

But state and federal courts have rejected Davis' request for a new trial, and state officials have rejected calls for clemency.

Davis was scheduled to be executed on Sept. 23, but it was postponed after the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether he should get a new trial.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision to order an evidentiary hearing, with Scalia saying that "every judicial and executive body that has examined petitioner's claim has been unpersuaded."

Davis' "claim is a sure loser," Scalia said. "Transferring his petition to the District Court is a confusing exercise that can serve no purpose except to delay the state's execution of its lawful criminal judgment."

Scalia said the Supreme Court was sending the District Court for the Southern District of Georgia "on a fool's errand."

"That court is directed to consider evidence of actual innocence which has been reviewed and rejected at least three times," he said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was just confirmed as a new justice earlier this month, did not take part in the consideration of Davis' motion, the court said.


USA Today

GEORGIA: Supreme Court orders new hearing in Ga. death penalty case

USA TODAY's Supreme Court correspondent Joan Biskupic reports that the high court, in an exceptional move, has ordered a U.S. district court in Georgia to hear new testimony in the case of Troy Davis, who was convicted of killing an off-duty police officer nearly 2 decades ago.

Over the dissent of 2 justice, the Supreme Court said a lower court judge should determine whether new evidence "clearly establishes" Davis' innocence.

Since his jury conviction 18 years ago, seven of the prosecution's witnesses have recanted their testimony about what happened in a Savannah parking lot the night officer Mark Allen MacPhail was shot dead. Some individuals have also said the prosecution's key witness was the shooter, not Davis.

The case had been pending before the justices for months, and the majority's action demonstrates that they were plainly concerned that an innocent person might be facing death.

Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, calling the court's action "extraordinary ... one not taken in nearly 50 years" and asserting that "every judicial and executive body that has examined (Davis') stale claim of innocence has been unpersuaded."

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that he and Thomas were wrongly assuming, despite the new information, that Davis was guilty. He said the risk of putting an innocent man to death provides "adequate justification" for a new hearing.


Facing South

GEORGIA: The New Abolitionism: Troy Davis case shines light on anti-death penalty movement in the South

In what legal experts are calling a highly unusual step, but a major breakthrough, Monday the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new hearing for death-row inmate Troy Davis, the 40-year-old African-American man from Georgia who faces execution despite widespread concern Davis is an innocent man.

Davis has been on death row since 1991 for the 1989 murder of off-duty white Savannah policeman Mark MacPhail. Despite his 18 years on death row, Davis maintains his innocence, and legal experts and human rights advocates say there is enough evidence to back up his claim.

 Monday's Supreme Court decision instructed a lower court to "receive testimony and findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis'] innocence." Advocates are calling the high court's order a crucial and important turn of events, and Davis' attorneys say that a new trial would allow them to show new evidence that could prove Davis was mistakenly identified as the killer.

 The original witness testimonies were the backbone of the prosecution's case against Davis because of the absence of a murder weapon, fingerprints and DNA evidence. Since Davis' trial, 7 of 9 key prosecution witnesses who testified against him have recanted their testimony, and other witnesses have said another man confessed to the killing. Despite these witness' recantations and the exculpatory statements of additional witnesses pointing to another man as the shooter, over the last couple of years federal and state courts have repeatedly denied Davis' request for a new trial to present the new evidence. The ruling on Monday, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, was Davis' "last chance in the court system."

 Ruling in favor of Davis, Justice John Paul Stevens cited prior court precedent that said it would be "an atrocious violation of our Constitution and the principles upon which it is based" to execute an innocent man.ven added that "the substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing."

 In the last two years, Davis has come within hours of lethal injection 3 times but has been granted a stay each time. When Davis' last stay of execution expired on May 15, lawyers filed a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court, asking that the case be sent back to a federal judge for an evidentiary hearing that would include witnesses whose testimony has never been heard in court.

 A Movement Grows

 Grassroots activists have helped to push Davis' case into the national spotlight, and have made his appeal for a new trial one of the most high-profile death penalty cases in the United States. The Troy Davis case has also become a rallying cry amongst death penalty opponents across the nation and around the globe, birthing one of the largest anti-death penalty movements in recent years.

 Groups such as Amnesty International and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have organized around Davis' innocence, staging national and international days of action that have included large mobilizations, rallies, vigils and petition drives to stay Davis' execution and in support of a new trial.

 The movement has gained the attention and support of influential advocates, including former President Jimmy Carter, Civil Rights icon John Lewis, Nobel Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Pope Benedict XVI, as well as the European Union, the European Parliament, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, former FBI Director William Sessions, and former and current members of U.S. Congress Bob Barr, Carol Moseley Braun and John Lewis.

 Death penalty opponents see the growing movement to free Davis as a way to bring more people into the wider anti-death penalty movement, and to educate the broader public about the racial disparities in the criminal justice system and in the application of the death penalty.

 The movement against the death penalty is also growing in the South. As Facing South has reported, executions have become a Southern phenomenon in many ways. in fact, the South has performed 80 % of all executions since 1977, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas and Virginia alone account for 45 % of all U.S. executions.

 More than anything, Davis' case, situated as it is in the South, has helped to shine a light on the way the death penalty plays out in the region.

 As NACCP president Benjamin Jealous recently wrote in The Nation:

 Adding to the sense of urgency around the Davis case, too, is the long, sour history of wrongly-accused black men receiving "rough justice" in the Deep South. Davis was convicted in Chatham County, a place where genteel traditions and picturesque antebellum mansions mask the harsher truths about the history of slavery, racism, and the Jim Crow era that is still imprinted on the region. Chatham County is home to about 250,000 of Georgia's 9.7 million residents but it has produced 40 percent of all death row exonerations in the state.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Troy Davis gets chance to prove his innocence

  The U.S. Supreme Court gave Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis a day in court to attempt to prove his innocence, using evidence not available to Davis at his original trial for killing a Savannah police officer.

 As AJC reporter Bill Rankin notes:

 "Since the 1991 trial, 7 of 9 key prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony. This includes recantations from witnesses who testified they saw Davis shoot and kill MacPhail.

 Others have come forward and said another man, Sylvester "Redd" Coles, has admitted to them he was the killer. Coles, who denied shooting MacPhail, was at the scene and the 1st person to implicate Davis."

"The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote. But Antonin Scalia, joined in the minority by Clarence Thomas, was unconvinced and unmoved.

 "This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged 'actual innocence' is constitutionally cognizable."

 In other words, "innocence shminnocence. Fry him." As his fellow justices noted, Scalia's position allows no legal avenue for even an obviously innocent person to have his or her case heard.

 Davis is still a long way from freedom. The court decision assumes his guilt but gives him a chance in a courtroom, before a judge, to prove his innocence. The recantations on which his appeal were built may very well prove to be unconvincing 20 years after the fact. But to kill him without giving him that chance would have been a travesty.

May 24 2020

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May 20 2020

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