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A Supreme Injustice

by ALAN MAASS

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by death row prisoner Troy Davis, clearing the way for the state of Georgia to set a third execution date in the coming weeks.

It was another painful blow for Troy, an innocent man who has spent nearly 20 years facing the threat of execution for a crime he didn’t commit. He has evidence that points to his innocence which has never been heard by a jury–yet one court after another, citing laws that sharply restrict what prisoners can raise during appeals, has turned down his pleas to listen to the truth.

CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen called the decision the “gruesome but inevitable conclusion” of a “decades-long, law-and-order-fueled trend toward restricting appellate avenues in criminal cases.”

The obvious injustices in this case have moved people around the country and across the world.

Troy is Black, and he is accused of killing a white police officer, Mark MacPhail, in Savannah, Ga., in 1989. There is no physical evidence linking him to the crime–no murder weapon, no fingerprints or DNA, no tests showing gunpowder residue.

Troy was convicted entirely because of eyewitness testimony. But seven of the nine witnesses who testified against Troy have since recanted, with many saying they were coerced by police who were frantic to pin the murder of a fellow officer on someone. Of the two witnesses who stick to their stories, one at first couldn’t identify Davis for police, and the other, Sylvester Coles, was initially the cops’ prime suspect. In the years since, five people have come forward to say they heard Coles admit he killed MacPhail.

The unreliability of eyewitness testimony is one of the sordid secrets of the justice system. According to a 2007 study of 200 cases in which people were freed from prison after DNA evidence proved them innocent, erroneous eyewitness identifications were the leading cause of the wrongful convictions in 79 percent of cases.

But the courts won’t even consider this question. When the Georgia Supreme Court rejected Troy’s appeal by a 4-3 vote earlier this year, the judges wrote that recanted testimony shouldn’t be reconsidered unless there was “no doubt of any kind” that the testimony at the original trial was “purest fabrication.” That standard can’t be met short of ironclad evidence proving a witness couldn’t have seen what they claimed to.

By refusing to hear the same appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court put its stamp of approval on this twisted Georgia ruling–and on the series of laws that prevent prisoners from ever raising new evidence of innocence, however compelling.

“The highly politicized, step-by-step closing of the courthouse doors to appeals like this–the intentional restriction of meaningful appeals rights–may send an innocent man to his death,” wrote CBS News’ Cohen.

* * *

THROUGH IT all, authorities at every level have seemed intent on causing Troy and his supporters as much mental and emotional anguish as possible.

When he faced his first execution date in July 2007, Troy came within 24 hours of being put to death before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles granted a stay. When a second execution date was set for late last month, the parole board heard more witnesses in the case–then declined Troy’s petition without any deliberations.

That time, Troy came within two hours of dying–before the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in with a stay. Yet the justices gave no clue how or when they would decide the case, putting off a private discussion of the case and saying nothing during several days when word of their decision was expected.

When the court finally announced it wouldn’t take up Troy’s case, the justices gave no explanation whatsoever.

But the facts of this case demand an explanation. How can anyone read Troy’s appeal and not conclude that there should be at least a hearing into the evidence of his innocence?

“I’m truly disgusted by these people,” said Martina Correia, Troy’s sister and a tireless advocate for him. “I don’t even know what to say. I wonder why I’m still a U.S. citizen sometimes.” Martina said that when she told Troy of the Supreme Court decision, “He said, ‘It doesn’t make any sense. What do I have to do?'”

Martina and Troy’s other supporters are determined to keep protesting–“until we can’t fight any more,” Martina said. Activists with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in Washington, D.C., have called a demonstration for October 18 outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. Amnesty International has renewed its campaign to flood the Georgia parole board with calls.

If the state of Georgia kills Troy Davis, it will be the cold-blooded murder of a man who says he can prove his innocence–aided and abetted by the nine most powerful people in the American legal system.

ALAN MAASS is the editor of the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: alanmaass@sbcglobal.net

What you can do

Demonstrate on October 18 in Washington, D.C., against the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Troy’s case. Gather on the steps of the Supreme Court building at 2 p.m. E-mail mikestark2003@yahoo.com for information.

Amnesty International is asking people to e-mail or fax the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles through Amnesty’s Troy Davis Online Action Center. You can also write a letter to the editor asking the Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop Troy’s execution.

Find out more about Troy’s case at the Troy Anthony Davis Web site.

Marlene Martin’s “Anatomy of a frameup,” [5] published in the new issue of the International Socialist Review, documents the long history of injustices in Troy’s case. Troy’s sister, Martina Correia, was interviewed in the New Abolitionist, newsletter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, in an article titled “The fight for my brother Troy.” [6]

For more information about the fight against the death penalty nationwide, visit the Web site of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty [7].

 

 

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