Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Shop the Truthdig Gift Guide 2014
December 20, 2014
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

Get Truthdig's headlines in your inbox!


A Win for the Cuban People






Truthdig Bazaar
Beyond Bogotá

Beyond Bogotá

By Garry Leech
$17.13

more items

 
Report

Troy Davis and the Meaning of ‘Actual Innocence’

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

Posted on Aug 18, 2009
Flickr / blmurch

By Amy Goodman

Sitting on death row in Georgia, Troy Davis has won a key victory against his own execution. On Aug. 17, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed a federal court in Georgia to consider, for the first time in a formal court proceeding, significant evidence of Davis’ innocence that surfaced after his conviction. This is the first such order from the U.S. Supreme Court in almost 50 years. Remarkably, the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether it is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.

The order read, in part, “The District Court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner’s innocence.” Behind the order lay a stunning array of recantations from those who originally testified as eyewitnesses to the murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail on Aug. 19, 1989. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses who originally identified Davis as the murderer of MacPhail have since recanted, some alleging police coercion and intimidation in obtaining their testimony. Of the remaining two witnesses, one, Sylvester “Redd” Coles, is accused by others as the shooter and identified Davis as the perpetrator probably to save himself from arrest.

On the night of the murder, MacPhail was off duty, working as a security guard at a Burger King. A homeless man was being beaten in the parking lot. The altercation drew Davis and others to the scene, along with MacPhail. MacPhail intervened, and was shot fatally with a .38-caliber gun. Later, Coles arrived at the police station, accompanied by a lawyer, and identified Davis as the shooter. The police engaged in a high-profile manhunt, with Davis’ picture splayed across the newspapers and television stations. Davis turned himself in. With no physical evidence linking him to the crime, Davis was convicted and sentenced to death.

Jeffrey Sapp is typical of those in the case who recanted their eyewitness testimony. He said in an affidavit:

“The police ... put a lot of pressure on me to say ‘Troy said this’ or ‘Troy said that.’ They wanted me to tell them that Troy confessed to me about killing that officer ... they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear.”

Advertisement

Square, Site wide
Despite the seven recantations, Georgia’s parole commission has refused to commute Davis’ sentence. Courts have refused to hear the evidence, mostly on procedural grounds. Conservatives like former Georgia Congressman and prosecutor Bob Barr and former FBI Director William Sessions have called for justice in his case, along with Pope Benedict XVI, President Jimmy Carter, the NAACP and Amnesty International.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, “The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing.” Yet conservative Justice Antonin Scalia dissented (with Justice Clarence Thomas), writing that Davis’ case “is a sure loser,” and “[t]his Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

Davis has had three execution dates, and in one instance was within two hours of lethal injection. Now he will finally have his day in court. With the courageous support of his sister, Martina Correia (who has been fighting for his life as well as her own—she has stage 4 breast cancer), and his nephew, Antone De’Jaun Correia, who at 15 is a budding human rights activist, Davis may yet defy death. That could lead to a long-overdue precedent in U.S. law: It is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.
 
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
 
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” recently released in paperback.

© 2009 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

By Jen F, August 22, 2009 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The one problem I have with this ruling is that the evidence is supposed to establish ‘innocence.’  Without DNA evidence and a clear alibi, it’s impossible to prove as long as there is someone out there saying he did it and no physical evidence to the contrary.  There is no physical evidence at all in this case—neither guilt nor innocence can be proven.  Even if Coles did do it, there’s no way to demonstrate for certain that it was him either. 

No defendant has the burden of proving innocence in court.  What it should say is that the evidence would establish ‘reasonable doubt’.  Since they did not use that phrase, I am terribly worried that Scalia is right, and this case is a sure loser.  But I have to hope that justice will prevail.  I personally believe Davis is innocent, but at the very least there is certainly reasonable doubt of his guilt.

Report this
thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, August 21, 2009 at 2:51 am Link to this comment

re: Folktruther

Thanks for the book suggestion.

Report this

By Folktruther, August 20, 2009 at 9:20 pm Link to this comment

You might be interested, Beerdoctor, in A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE WORLD, which Zinn recommends, by Chris Harman.  A little superfical but, hell, it’s amazing that it can be done at all.

Report this
thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, August 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm Link to this comment

re: Folktruther

The myths of American history, as opposed to the actual history, have created the false narrative that so many base their political decisions upon. Of course, The People’s History of United States by Howard Zinn, is a good jumping off point to lifting the illusionary clouds that have portrayed cowardly acts of senseless violence as necessary, or worse, held up to be heroic.

Report this

By Folktruther, August 20, 2009 at 10:59 am Link to this comment

asolutely, Beerdoctor.  That is why the cliche, ‘the US is a govenment of laws not men’ is ominous.  Slavery was legal in the US as well as other mass coercion.

Nit that the bromide is true of course.  In the US, under our descent into barbarism, if the powerful do it, that means its legal.

Report this
thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, August 20, 2009 at 3:00 am Link to this comment

re: Folktruther

I have little doubt that AS is held in high regard in some judicial circles, but cleverness does not always denote wisdom. Despite advocating for the law to be written in stone, AS and the gang found it convenient to circumnavigate that blessed stone, when it came to the 2000 election of George Bush. Scalia as I recall, later said that everybody “should just get over it”.
American history is full of clever arguments. From the Dred Scott decision to Plessy v. Ferguson. But, as the Mahatma once said: “there are unjust laws as there are unjust men.”

Report this

By Alclo, August 19, 2009 at 5:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Apparently Justice Scalia has never read the Eighth Amendment to the
Constitution. It states:

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and
unusual punishments inflicted.”

If executing a man in spite of his innocence is not “cruel and unusual” then we
might as well scrap the rest of the Constitution.

Report this

By LAWYERS FOR POOR AMERICANS, August 19, 2009 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

THIS OLD WORLD ORDER OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT OF OUR POORER AMERICANS NEEDS ENLIGHTENED POLITICAL MINDS AND HEARTS TO VIEW GOD DIFFERENTLY THEN $$$.

WHEN WILL OUR WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS ABATE THEIR ASSAULT ON POORER AMERICANS WITH THEIR MONETARY CONTROL OF OUR IVORY TOWER U.S. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER ???

THERE ARE NOT MANY MORE DISTRACTIONS LEFT WHICH ARE AVAILABLE FOR OUR WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS TO HIDE BEHIND IN NOT TAKING PROPER CARE OF ALL OUR AMERICANS IN A HUMANE FASHION !!!

AMERICAN IVORY TOWER U.S.CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD HAVE PASSED FEDERAL LEGISLATION IN WASHINGTON DC TO SPEND 50 BILLION AMERICAN TAX $$$ ON THE INTERNATIONAL FIGHT AGAINST AIDS OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS WHILE THEIR OWN AMERICAN CITIZENS ARE BEING TOLD BY THIS SAME U.S.CONGRESS THAT NATIONAL HEALTH CARE AND PROPER LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR MIDDLE CLASS AND WORKING POOR CITIZENS IS UNAFFORDABLE.

*** WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS (WHO ARE ONLY 1% OF OUR USA POPULATION) SADLY ALSO CONTROL HOW OUR U.S.CONGRESS SPENDS THEIR BUDGET TRILLION$ AND HAVE OBVIOUSLY FOUND MORE WORTHY INTERNATIONAL CITIZENS THEN OUR OWN DESPERATE AND NEEDY POOR TO ASSIST !!!

~Poorer Americans Nationwide only get 400 million $$$ per year for legal representation allocated them by CONGRESS~

Middle Class and Working Poor Americans are unable to afford proper legal representation in their Civil, Criminal and Family Courts of law all across America causing tremendous hardships nationwide,but these great minds and callous hearts in our American Congress have found others Worldwide more needy then their own citizens who are being falsely incarcerated,wrongfuly executed,losing their homes or apartments,losing child custody or visitation with their children etc…

Not being afforded proper legal representation by our U.S. Congress has created a total breakdown of the American judicial system for our poorer Americans because the our U.S. Courts punish all of us little people if we are not assisted with proprer legal counsel.it is a known fact that our average Middle Class and Working Poor Americans without proper legal representation in all of our American Courts of law lose their legal cases to the better financed who are able to afford lawyers.

Lawyers For Poor Americans is now actively in the hunt for International Countries and Leaders Worldwide to help raise 5 Billion Dollar$ for our slighted poorer Americans who have had their own American Congress turn their backs on their desperate needs in not affording them proper legal representation.

Troy Davis and Mumia Abu - Jamal are 2 perfect examples of American citizens who never had proper legal representation afforded them by our U.S. Congressional Leaders Of The Free World in their initial criminal trials in (Georgia and Pennsylvania) who might very well have to pay the ultimate price of possibly being completely innocent and falsely executed in the near future.

This is the first of many www International pleas by Lawyers For Poor Americans for other leaders and countries to help raise the needed monie$ to correct these blatant injustices that have been inflicted on poorer Americans for the last few decades.

Lawyers For Poor Americans has many other written articles that can be viewed with any www search engine by our name or our telephone number.

Lawyers For Poor Americans is a www lobby group of volunteers that sing out about the decades old neglect,abuse and injustices being inflicted on our poorer Americans that have become Crimes Against Humanity issues for the International World Court to investigate.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

(424-247-2013)

Report this

By bernard martin, August 19, 2009 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t it time for Scalia and his co-traveler Thomas to be impeached not only for their ideological distortion of the law but for their lack of humanity?

Report this
Hulk2008's avatar

By Hulk2008, August 19, 2009 at 1:50 pm Link to this comment

Although it is “constitutional” (legal) to start an unjust war, it is morally and ethically wrong to do so.  When our Constitution contradicts truth, morals, and ethics and permits by omission or commission the death of innocent persons, I respectfully submit that “constitutionality” is a useless criterion.
  There are those who are so tied up in their striving for the original precepts of our forefathers that they end up ignoring the real purpose for any constitution - the very lives of those governed by it.  It’s the legal equivalent of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. 
  At least our forefathers understood this fact and permitted “amendments” and other remedies.

Report this

By Folktruther, August 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

BeerDoctor, I always assumed that Scalia was an idiot but my wife, a supervising appelate attorney, says he is very talented legally.  Thinks up innovative arguments.

It makes one wonder, does it not, about the uses that talent is put to in a homicidal society.  If the constitution implies that it is legal to execute an innocent man, in what sense is this an Enlightenment document? 

Scalia is saying here that the law need not, indeed should not, be based on elementary justice.  Arguing publically and legally, as the highest legal judge.  With no doubt the approval of a fraction of the legal community.

Report this

By warbad1, August 19, 2009 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is there something of a catch 22 in this? How would such a case come before a court? Would someone have to be dead first?

Report this

By Rontruth, August 19, 2009 at 9:21 am Link to this comment

Pardon me if I wax political here. But notice that the two appointees from Bush, Sr. and Ronald Reagan, both GOP presidents, said in essence, that it makes no damned matter that a man is innocent, even if proven after the state murdered them, to be innocent.

I would guess that the framers of our Constitution, and style of governance, never, ever thought that justice in it’s real sense would ever fall along political lines. Scalia and “Long Dong Silver” are the ones who voted that the Florida Supreme Court hand recounting of disputed ballots that were quickly moving in Al Gore’s direction and would have put him in the White House instead of the horror we all just got through with.

It seems that, at long last the more moderate voices are beginning to get their “voices” back. This is a most important case, and if it shows Troy to be innocent, will go a long way toward raising the standard for when a human being can be put to death.
The kind of slip-shod, politicized “justice” that this country is all too familiar with, may have just suffered a “death-blow.”

Report this

By Clovis, August 19, 2009 at 9:17 am Link to this comment

Dick Cavett once said on his teevee program, `If the cause of capital punishment is simply deterrence, then it doesn’t matter who the state kills.’ He was being facetious. And now an Extreme Court Injustice says it’s Constitutional law.

Report this

By garth, August 19, 2009 at 9:10 am Link to this comment

I saw your show on August, 19, 2009.  It was beyond description as far a Sclia and Thomas are concerned. 
Here we have a two Supreme Court Justices saying that since the Consitution does not say anything about putting innocent people to death who were wrongly convicted of a capital crime, then they say it is “incognizant.”  What are we?
Well, Scalia’s father is a founder of the American Fascist Party in New York City in 1934.  A professor of Classics as Huntington College he rivals the Pseudo-Scholar Davis now of Stanford in his misunderstnading of history.
On 60 Minutes he proclaimed that the law echos his interpretaion because he said so.

We should look into the suspicion that these people are simply members of Death Cult.

Report this

By pistolato, August 19, 2009 at 7:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the idea that justices scalia and thomas think there’s no constitutional protection to be executed even if you’re found to be innocent before your date with death (provided you’ve had a ‘fair’ trial built on lies beforehand) is stupid to the point of disbelief.
happily the majority of justices seemed to agree on this one.

Report this

By ChaoticGood, August 19, 2009 at 1:55 am Link to this comment

It is constitutional to execute anyone who has been tried and convicted of a capital crime.  Whether or not they are guilty should not matter at all.  The fact that they have been found guilty by a jury of their peers is sufficient for the law.

The constitutionality of the Death Penalty is a different matter.  The cruel and unusual punishment exclusion should render the Death Penalty unconstitutional in itself.

Instead we worry ourselves about the most painless method of inflicting death.

Scalia and that wart on his ass, Thomas, seem to believe that the Constitution is immune from logic. To them, the Constitution is some sort of immutable stone face.  I cannot believe that to gain some sort of justice, we would need to add an amendment to the Constitution that forbade the execution of innocent people. That seems ludicrous, but to Scalia, it must be necessary.

But of course, we must remember that this is taking place in Georgia, that most educated and enlightened of states.  You know, the one where black men get a fair deal from Sheriff Justice and his huntin dogs.

Report this
thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, August 19, 2009 at 1:55 am Link to this comment

Reading Antonin Scalia’s judicial comments reminds me of what Gore Vidal said about being familiar with thugs like Scalia, walking around in places like Naples Italy.

Report this

By Folktruther, August 19, 2009 at 12:47 am Link to this comment

two Supreme Court Justices hold that it is Constitutional to execute a prisoner that a later judicial hearing finds to be not guilty.  It would be difficult to find more salient evidence that the US is sinking into barbarism.

Report this
 
Monsters of Our Own Creation? Get tickets for this Truthdig discussion of America's role in the Middle East.
Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
 
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 
 
 

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Zuade Kaufman, Publisher   Robert Scheer, Editor-in-Chief
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

Like Truthdig on Facebook