Troy Davis makes 'unprecedented' bid for clemency. Will it save his life?
More than 600,000 people, including leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Carter, have urged a Georgia clemency board to commute Troy Davis's death sentence.
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Some of those who have called for clemency, including Mr. Carter, say they're not convinced of Davis' innocence. But they are convinced that the level of doubt about his guilt has risen to a point where executing him will be a serious injustice, and would only further cast doubt on the US death penalty system around the world.Skip to next paragraph
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“When you put [the new evidence together], it seems to be pretty clear that no jury, if presented with that information today, could conceivably find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” says Professor Covey.
“This case is extraordinary because there have been substantial questions of his innocence for almost a decade,” death-penalty lawyer Stephen Bright, a professor at Yale Law School, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It has attracted attention from all around the world, and the extraordinary number of people supporting him – and the prominence of some of them – is unprecedented.”
The clemency board hearing Davis's case Monday in Atlanta – the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles – is the same body that previously upheld the 1991 conviction, though it does have three new members. The ultimate Georgia arbiter of clemency, the board has rarely overturned a death penalty conviction.
But in the Davis case, the five board members for the first time heard testimony from a witness who said another man at the scene confessed that he actually pulled the trigger. That statement was excluded from the district court appeal last year because the man was not available to the court to rebut that testimony. The board is entitled to hear testimony without meeting that legal standard.
In that appeal, a judge from the US District Court of the Southern District of Georgia found that Davis “vastly overstates the value of his evidence of innocence.” Some evidence, wrote Judge William Moore, “is too general to provide anything more than smoke and mirrors.”
In recent years, appellate courts have continued to set high bars for proving innocence. Proponents say it's the multilevel appeals processes like the one Davis has gone through that guarantee the fairness of the system. The fact that some death-penalty convictions do get overturned on appeal, or that new evidence, such as DNA proof culled by the Innocence Project, has set dozens of men free in recent years, is actually proof to many that the system works.
Yet the Davis case could also play into growing doubt, at least in some quarters, about the guarantees of the death penalty system. While public support for the death penalty is down to 64 percent from a high of 80 percent in 1994, according to Gallup, opinions in the last decade have stayed relatively stable, with the number of people against the death penalty dropping from 30 to 29 percent between 2009 and 2010, again according to Gallup.
On July 1, 2011, all death row inmates in Illinois were moved to regular jail cells after the state abolished the death penalty. Actual executions have been steadily dwindling even in the country's mostly Southern “eye-for-an-eye” states, where the ultimate sanction is most common. Executions in the US overall have declined from 98 in 1999 to 38 in 2010.