USA: Troy Davis facing execution in Georgia despite doubts over conviction

Clemency board urged to act in case where witness statements included one from illiterate man who couldn’t read his own signed statement

Amnesty International is calling on the state authorities in Georgia to stop the execution of Troy Davis, a 40-year-old black man who is facing execution on 23 September despite serious doubts about the safety of his conviction.

The organisation’s supporters are sending appeals to Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that Davis’ death sentence be commuted.

Davis, who has been on death row for 17 years, was convicted in 1991 of the murder of white police officer Mark Allen MacPhail, who was shot and killed in the car park of a Burger King restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, in the early hours of 19 August 1989.

Davis has admitted being at the scene of the shooting but has always claimed that he did not shoot MacPhail. No physical evidence against Davis has ever been produced, the murder weapon has never been found and the case against Davis at trial consisted entirely of witness testimony.

In affidavits signed over the years since the trial, a majority of the state's witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony, while post-trial testimony has emerged implicating another man, Sylvester Coles, as the gunman.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“It would be an outrage if the state of Georgia executes Troy Davis regardless of the huge doubts around the safety of his conviction.

“Unlike other penalties, a death sentence can’t be remedied if a mistake is made and we appeal to the Georgia authorities to recognise this, avoid the danger of a tragic miscarriage of justice and commute Davis’ sentence.”

On 12 September Troy Davis has a clemency hearing before Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles - though it is not known when they will hand down their decision. Last year the Board issued a “stay” against Davis being executed less than 24 hours before it was due to be carried out.

Since then Georgia’s Supreme Court has ruled that his execution could go ahead, though in a 4-3 split-decision the court’s supreme justice issued a dissenting opinion which raised serious concerns about an “overly rigid” legal system which failed to allow a proper investigation of “the fundamental question, which is whether or not an innocent person might have been convicted or even, as in this case, might be put to death.”

Over the years, numerous doubts have accumulated around the safety of Davis’ conviction, with a “jailhouse informant” retracting his incriminating account of Davis’ supposed confession and several other supposed “eye-witnesses” later recanting their trial evidence while insisting they were under “a lot of pressure” from police to provide signed statements. Several of these have later said they were pressurised by police officers into signing witness statement that they had not even read.

One witness, Antoine Williams, a Burger King employee who at the trial identified Davis as the gunman, later said:

"Even today, I know that I could not honestly identify with any certainty who shot the officer that night. I couldn't then either. After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read. At Troy Davis's 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."

Since its resumption of executions in 1977, the USA has executed 1,118 prisoners - 42 in Georgia. Meanwhile over 100 people have been released from death rows around the country on grounds of innocence, many of them in cases in which witness testimony has been exposed as unreliable.

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