Troy Davis: too much doubt

In music circles they call it “retromania”. An endless recycling of old styles, inhibiting progress. It leads to things like a revival of “shoegaze” or prog rock.

To me it sometimes feels like retromania with the way there’s a periodic clamour (in some circles) for a return of capital punishment in the UK. Recently we’ve had that sprinkling of MPs and bloggers banging the drum over an e-petition that could lead to a parliamentary debate on it.

Hmm. It’s an e-petition, it’s democracy – and I’ve got no problem with that. But going back to the judge’s black cap and the noose? Really?

I’d urge anyone who’s hankering after the supposed “certainty” of an “eye-for-an-eye” punishments or the supposed “justice” of murderers themselves facing death to seriously consider the Troy Davis case in Georgia in the United States.

I’ve blogged about Troy Davis several times (here, here and here for example). Troy is a 42-year-old man who’s been on death row for 20 years (20 years). This week he’s received the news that the authorities intend to kill him with a lethal injection at 7pm (Atlanta time) on Wednesday 21 September.

See this detailed report for the full story, but in essence this is what happened. In the early hours of 19 August 1989 a police officer called Mark Allen McPhail was shot dead in a Burger King car park in Savannah, Georgia. In court Davis admitted he’d been at the scene of the shooting (as were several other people) but completely denied any involvement. There was never any physical evidence linking Davis to the crime and the prosecution relied entirely on eye-witness accounts.

Since the trial the case has unravelled. One “eye-witness” has admitted he’d hadn’t seen Davis kill the police officer but still signed a pre-prepared police statement incriminating him because he was under intense pressure from police interrogators. He didn’t even read his statement first (in fact he was actually illiterate). No less than seven out of nine prosecution witnesses have now recanted or changed their initial testimonies in sworn affidavits. Meanwhile, another man is widely suspected of the crime.

Troy Davis’ case is a perfect example of how deeply dubious the application of the death penalty can be. A high-profile crime, a shaky case that has fallen apart over the years, a rigid justice system that hasn’t fully reviewed all the new evidence and is pressing ahead regardless. Some pro-capital punishment types like to hold up the USA as a “democracy that has the death penalty” (partly so they don’t have to discuss the big players on the capital punishment scene – namely China, Iran and Saudi Arabia). Have they ever looked at the Troy Davis case?

It’s only fair to say that the family of McPhail remain convinced that Troy Davis murdered Mark. But would a jury now – after witness after witness has now recanted – be even close to finding Davis guilty of the policeman’s death? Surely not.

So now we have a totally unconscionable scenario. Namely, Georgia’s authorities are pressing ahead with their intention to judicially kill a prisoner in the face of very significant doubts. Quite simply, there is too much doubt even to think of executing Troy Davis. Over 300,000 people from all around the world have already petitioned the Georgia authorities to reconsider what they’re doing and Amnesty is sending urgent appeals to the state’s Board of Pardon and Paroles urging that they commute the sentence (which the board has the power to do). Please do the same.

Meanwhile, look out for our Twitter campaign on Troy Davis in the coming days. It’s hashtagged #tTooMuchDoubt and #TroyDavis.

 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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