Troy Davis decision: a terrible day for US justice

Kate Allen has called it “a terrible day for US justice” and that just about sums it up.

The decision by the US state of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles to deny clemency to Troy Davis is a shocker. No physical evidence, seven out of nine prosecution witnesses recanting or changing their initial testimonies, a pattern of police coercion of witnesses ahead of his trial, and ten people pointing to one of the remaining witnesses and saying he’s the actual killer.

And still the paroles board has voted to allow the execution to go ahead…. It really is shocking. I urge you to read a few pages of Amnesty’s devastating 2007 report on the case to see how shocking this affair really is. (I’ve also blogged on it previously here, here and here).

One quick example of the “quality” of the eyewitness evidence against Troy Davis. One of the prosecution witnesses at the trial, Antoine Williams, later explained:

At Troy Davis’ trial, I identified him as the person who shot the officer. Even when I said that, I was totally unsure whether he was the person who shot the officer. I felt pressured to point at him because he was the one who was sitting in the courtroom. I have no idea what the person who shot the officer looks like.

“I kept telling them that I didn’t know. It was dark, my windows were tinted, and I was scared. It all happened so fast”, Williams says.  At the time, scared and subjected to a high-pressure interrogation, he signed a pre-written police evidence statement that he had never even read (and indeed he couldn’t have read, given that he was actually illiterate).

It’s important – very important – to acknowledge the need for justice for the man who died back in 1989. Mark Allen MacPhail was a young police officer who had run to the aid of a homeless man – Larry Holmes – who was being attacked in a car park late at night. Mark’s death was tragic and has left behind a bitterly grieving family.

But how does killing another man bring justice here? And still less, how does killing another man who may even be innocent bring justice?

The campaign slogan for Troy Davis in these past days has been “Too Much Doubt”, and that’s overwhelmingly the way it is. Surely if there had been even a tenth of the doubt that exists in the Troy Davis case today at the time of his trial a jury would not have found find him guilty of murder.

So now time is really running out. The Georgia paroles board has itself previously said that it would vote against an execution if there was “doubt as to the guilt of the accused”. Well there is here, and around one million people have signed a petition to the board saying so. In these circumstances how can the US authorities – the five-person paroles board, and the Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm – press ahead with the execution tomorrow? Even now they should – surely – think again. Please urge them to do so here.

Meanwhile, if you are in the London area tomorrow please try to come along to a special vigil outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square from 10pm onwards (the execution is scheduled for 7pm in Jackson, Georgia, ie midnight UK time). Amnesty staff and supporters will be there with hot coffee, candles and a hope that this needless, unjust death can be averted.

Anyway, this blog post is not a time for grandiloquence. Suffice it say: today was a terrible day for US justice. And tomorrow could be even worse.

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