Uncertainty in Davis case highlights problems with death penalty

Sara Totonchi [Executive Director, Law Offices of the Southern Center for Human Rights]: "Wednesday, a federal judge upheld the murder conviction of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis. This ruling followed an unusual evidentiary hearing that was ordered by the US Supreme Court to examine evidence of Davis' innocence. Despite the ruling from Judge William T. Moore, Jr., questions and doubts about the Davis case remain. Given these uncertainties it would be a travesty of justice to execute Troy Davis.

At the June hearing in District Court, testimony was provided from witnesses that their original testimony implicating Davis was built on lies. Four witnesses admitted in court that they lied at trial and that they did not know who shot Officer Mark MacPhail. Another four witnesses implicated another man as the one who killed the officer - including one who says he saw the shooting and is related to the alternate suspect by marriage. Three original state witnesses described police coercion during questioning.

In his August 24th ruling, Judge Moore himself noted problems with the evidence proffered by the State of Georgia in their efforts to implicate Davis, stating that "[W]hile the State's case may not be ironclad, most reasonable jurors would again vote to convict Mr. Davis of Officer MacPhail's murder. A federal court simply cannot interpose itself and set aside the jury verdict in this case absent a truly persuasive showing of innocence." If a state's case against Troy Davis is not "ironclad," shouldn't that trouble those seeking his execution?

Troy Davis' case illustrates that U.S. courts simply cannot provide the certainty necessary to impose an irreversible punishment; therefore the death penalty must be abolished. Far too many cases, as in Davis' case, rely solely on eyewitness testimony, which is the number one source of wrongful convictions. This, along with other prevalent factors such as racial bias and inadequate representation, has created a system that cannot be entrusted with human life.

Across the nation states are moving away from the death penalty because of growing concerns about innocence, unfairness, discriminatory application, lack of efficacy, and other reasons. The death penalty was intended to be reserved for the worst offenders, but in practice, it is arbitrary and unfair. The system is fraught with error, plagued by poor legal representation, and discriminates on the basis of income, race and geography - with the majority carried out in the South - among many problems that leave it too broken to be fixed.

By choosing to deny Mr. Davis' claims, Georgia state courts have ostensibly declared that it is permissible to execute a convicted person who is likely innocent. It will be a travesty of justice for Georgia and our nation if an innocent person is executed. Proceeding with the execution of Troy Davis is callous, careless and irreversible."

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