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Georgia and the U.S. Supreme Court: Tinkering With the Machinery of Death

Posted on Mar 29, 2011

By Amy Goodman

On March 28, the Supreme Court refused to hear the death penalty case of Troy Anthony Davis. It was his last appeal. Davis has been on Georgia’s death row for close to 20 years after being convicted of shooting to death off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah. Since his conviction, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, alleging police coercion and intimidation in obtaining the testimony. Despite the doubt surrounding his case, Troy Anthony Davis could be put to death within weeks.

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Davis is now at the mercy of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole, which could commute his sentence to life without parole. It will be a tough fight, despite widespread national and international support for clemency from figures such as Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter.

Davis’ sister, Martina Correia, has tirelessly campaigned for justice for her brother. In response to the Supreme Court decision, she told me: “We were really shocked and appalled yesterday when we received the news ... no one wants to look at the actual innocence, and no one wants to look at the witness recantation as a real strong and viable part of this case, even though new witnesses have come forward. There needs to be a global mobilization about Troy’s case, and the fact that in the United States it’s not unconstitutional to execute an innocent person needs to be addressed once and for all by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Correia brings up a significant but little-known fact about death penalty law in the U.S., namely, that current court precedent allows the execution of innocent people. Remarkably, the Supreme Court, in a 1993 opinion, suggested that “actual innocence” is not a sufficient cause to be let free. The court only cares if the legal rules are followed, while acknowledging that innocent people could still be convicted and put to death. In such cases, a prisoner could appeal for executive clemency. It seems the court has not yet learned what many states have, that the death penalty system is broken beyond repair.

Illinois recently became the 16th state in the U.S. to outlaw the death penalty. Gov. Pat Quinn, after signing the bill into law, said, “I have concluded that our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed ... it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.” He follows an earlier Illinois governor, Republican George Ryan, who commuted the death sentences of 120 death row prisoners in that state. 


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Both Illinois governors bring to mind former Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who wrote, in a dissenting opinion in 1994 after the court denied yet another death row inmate’s last appeal, “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

Tinkering with the machinery of death is just what some states seem to be doing. Thiopental is one of the three drugs used in the lethal “cocktail” administered in most executions in this country. Hospira, the last U.S.-based company to make sodium thiopental, quit making the controlled drug, creating a national shortage. States began scrambling to keep their death chambers well-stocked. When California borrowed a similar drug from Arizona, California Undersecretary of Corrections and Rehabilitation Scott Kernan wrote in an email, “You guys in AZ are life savers ...”

Georgia, it turns out, seems to have illegally imported its supply from a dubious, London-based company called Dream Pharma Ltd., run by a husband and wife out of a rented space in the back of a driving school. Georgia is not currently licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration to import controlled substances, so the DEA recently confiscated the state’s thiopental supply. Pending an investigation, Georgia will not have this key ingredient and will not be able to execute Davis or any other death row inmate.

On the same day that the Supreme Court denied Davis’ appeal, Amnesty International issued its annual report on the death penalty. The United States remains among the world’s leading executioners, along with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and North Korea.

In addition to leading the fight for her brother, Martina Correia has been fighting for her own life. The day of the court decision was the 10th anniversary of her ongoing battle against breast cancer. Her face adorns the mobile mammography van that helps save the lives of poor women in Savannah. The National Breast Cancer Coalition named her and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “Women Who Get It Right.” Correia, with customary humility, feels she won’t have earned the title until her brother’s life is saved as well.

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 900 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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By dudleysharp, April 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm Link to this comment


The purpose of the death penalty has the same foundation as for all sanctions, that they are just, appropriate and proprotional to the crime.

As a purely objective response, of course I have a bias for the victims. Why would I have a bias for their murderers?

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By culheath, April 2, 2011 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment

oh, and you still haven’t answered my question:

My question to you was: what advantage is there to society in executing this man after 20 years given those doubts or even without them?

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By culheath, April 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm Link to this comment

I am going to review all of your offered links and get back to you. I promise to view them with an open mind, though I don’t intend to merely capitulate to what I sense (from the tenor of your prose) is a bias on your part for the homicide victims, ie, relatives and surviving family members. I sense a mission behind your words and the attitudes they convey. I will try to not let that sway my resulting opinions. In any event, I appreciate your dedication to the topic, if not all of your “bedside manner” which comes across, FYI, as somewhat arrogant.


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By dudleysharp, April 2, 2011 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment

You are misinformed.

This was an extraordinary hearing request by SCOTUS, unwarranted, which went to the district court. A hearing on actual innocnce was the reason.

Actual innocence has been a major issue in death penalty jurisprudence for nearly 2 decades.

You’ve been fed a bunch of nonsense.

Not being a “p____”, just telling it like it is.

Here ya go.

The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are legendary. Some examples:

4)  “The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”—death-penalty-opponents—draft.aspx

5)  The 130 (now 138) death row “innocents” scam

6)  Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review”—the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

7)  “At the Death House Door” Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?”

8)  “Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”,  A Collection of Articles Todd Willingham.aspx

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By culheath, April 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment



SCOTUS agreed with the judges ruling. Why would they have a hearing when they agree with the decsions.

That’s how it works.”

They agreed with the process, not the facts or implementation of any measure of justice. Actual truth or innocence is irrelevant in many cases. Rules of evidence and other trial rules can block evidence that would serve the defense. Prosecutors can and have frequently withheld evidence they were required to make known to the defense resulting in erroneous, death penalty convictions.

It seems to me that if you are going kill a person you should be held to a rule of zero doubt. By my two year exposure to various articles on this case pro and con, there is doubt. My question to you is what advantage is there to the public in executing this man after 20 years given those doubts or even without them?

“Troy Davis is guilty.”

What makes you so certain of that?

“Wait for the next fraud based anti death penalty cause celbre.. ” 

Why be a prick about it?

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By dudleysharp, April 2, 2011 at 8:59 am Link to this comment

contd 3

NOTE: This site woudn’t accept this post, even with non active links, so I had to break up the links.

(1) 3 of many

“The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”

The 130 (now 139) death row “innocents” scam

“Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”, A Collection of Articles
// Todd Willingham.aspx

(2) All quotes from this article:

“Witnesses back off testimony against Troy Davis”, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 23, 2010

Other references:

Troy Davis: Both sides need to be told
Dudley Sharp, contact info below

Anyone interested in justice will demand a fair, thorough look at both sides of this or any case. Here is the side that the pro Troy Davis faction is, intentionally, not presenting.

(1) Davis v Georgia, Georgia Supreme Court, 3/17/08

” . . . the majority finds that ‘most of the witnesses to the crime who have allegedly recanted have merely stated that they now do not feel able to identify the shooter.’ “One of the affidavits ‘might actually be read so as to confirm trial testimony that Davis was the shooter.’ “

The murder occurred in 1989.


“After an exhaustive review of all available information regarding the Troy Davis case and after considering all possible reasons for granting clemency, the Board has determined that clemency is not warranted.”

“The Board has now spent more than a year studying and considering this case. As a part of its proceedings, the Board gave Davisâ?? attorneys an opportunity to present every witness they desired to support their allegation that there is doubt as to Davisâ?? guilt. The Board heard each of these witnesses and questioned them closely. In addition, the Board has studied the voluminous trial transcript, the police investigation report and the initial statements of all witnesses. The Board has also had certain physical evidence retested and Davis interviewed.”

(3) A detailed review of the extraordinary consideration that Davis was given for all of his claims,
by Chatham County District Attorney Spencer Lawton


Troy Davis’ claims are undermined, revealing the dishonesty of the Davis advocates . Look, particularly, at pages 4-7, which show the reasoned, thoughtful and generous reviews of Davis’ claims, as well a how despicable the one sided cynical pro Troy Davis effort is.

(4) Officer Mark Allen MacPhail: The family of murdered Officer MacPhail fully believes that Troy Davis murdered their loved one and that the evidence is supportive of that opinion.

Not simply an emotional and understandable plea for justice, but a detailed factual review of the case.

(5) “Death and Dying”, by Cliff Green, LIKE THE DEW, 7/22/09,

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By dudleysharp, April 2, 2011 at 8:53 am Link to this comment


SCOTUS agreed with the judges ruling. Why would they have a hearing when they agree with the decsions.

That’s how it works.

Troy Davis is guilty.

Wait for the next fraud based anti death penalty cause celbre..

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By culheath, April 2, 2011 at 7:31 am Link to this comment


And your reasoning against the court hearing the a life/death case to clear all doubt is what again?

What is the social advantage to the court refusing to hear it? We are all better served how?

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By dudleysharp, April 1, 2011 at 8:26 am Link to this comment

part 2 contd

First, there were enough witnesses against Davis -
the state had a solid case - therefore there was no
reason to put lying witnesses on the stand. Even if
we presume that some were pressured and threatened
into false statements, both police and prosecutors
knew, before trial, that they need not risk putting
any such perjuring witnesses on the stand. They had
enough evidence without them.

Why risk perjured testimony when you don’t need it?
They wouldn’t have.

Secondly, the non recantation witnesses, the police
investigators, and prosecutors have been consistent
from the beginning of the case - those witnesses
haven’t recanted, and police and prosecutors have
testified that there were no threats or pressure for
false testimony and those consistent, non recanting
witnesses gave truthful statements without pressure
or threats.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that the investigating
officers or the prosecutors had ever been involved in
such illegal activities before and the non
recantation witnesses give more weight to the
position that police and prosecutors did not pressure
or threaten for false testimony and to the
proposition that the recantations were the lies.

Judges are very aware of false testimony and how
pressure can be applied to produce it, by community
activists, such as anti death penalty folks.

Judges are aware that pressure is a two sided coin
and they must consider both sides of it and how that
may effect credibility. In a case such as this, the
evidence is such that Davis cannot prevail.

Credibility - this says it all.

“(Troy) Davis’ legal team also summoned Benjamin
Gordon, who testified that he saw Sylvester “Redd”
Coles shoot and kill the officer.” (2)

Gordon, who is incarcerated and has at least six
prior felony convictions, said he never came forward
because he did not trust the police and feared what
Coles might do to him or his family in retaliation.

“Is there any doubt in your mind that Redd Coles
fired that shot?” Horton asked. “No, sir,” Gordon

Davis’ legal team has long maintained that Coles, who
was at the scene and came forward after (Police
Officer) MacPhail’s slaying and implicated Davis to
police, was the actual triggerman. Coles has denied
shooting MacPhail.

Beth Attaway Burton, the state’s lead attorney, got
Gordon to acknowledge he never said he saw Coles
shoot MacPhail in interviews with police “or in sworn
statements he gave Davis’ legal team in 2003 and

“What made you change your story today?” Burton

“It’s the truth,” Gordon said. “

I think the judge will have to weigh Gordon’s
credibility similarly to that of Davis’ other
supportive witnesses - ZERO.


Note: We will hear protests that Davis’ attorneys
tried to subpoena Coles the day before the hearing,
but couldn’t locate him. The judge didn’t buy it
saying that there was no excuse based upon them
having much time to prepare for the hearing. It’s
clear they didn’t want Coles. When Davis loses this
appeal, he will then appeal to a higher court, which
will uphold the denial.


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By dudleysharp, April 1, 2011 at 8:24 am Link to this comment

The Supreme Court decision should have been easily
anticipated by all, except anti death penalty folks,
who seem incapable of processing all the available

Based upon the evidence presented in the federal
hearing it was clear that court would rule against
Davis and that the Supreme Court would not enter the

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone that
knew the facts of the case.

Anti death penalty folks, were, of course, fed a
bunch of nonsense by their leadership and they simply
accepted it.

As I wrote 6/25/10

Innocence claims will offer no reprieve for Troy

Based upon the media reports, alone, of the two day
hearing of June 2010, just as I suspect Davis’
attorneys have known all along, the appellate case
cannot prevail in overturning the findings that Troy
Davis is guilty of the murder of Police Officer Mark
Allen MacPhail.

What happened in the two day hearing was very
ordinary, if you are aware of anti death penalty
nonsense. (1)

Sylvester “Redd” Coles’ “Confessions”

The blockbuster witnesses who were going to testify
that the “real murderer” Sylvester “Redd” Coles had
confessed to them were not allowed to testify,
because Davis’ attorneys refused to call Coles to
testify, thereby rendering these witnesses in
possession of hearsay evidence and, therefore, not
able to testify.

Well, Judge Moore did allow, wrongly, one of them,
Anthony Hargrove, to testify. The judge “said that
unless Coles is called to the stand, he might give
(Hargrove’s) hearsay testimony “no weight

Of course, Davis’ attorneys didn’t call Coles. Davis’
attorneys made sure Hargrove’s testimony as well as
the other “confession” witnesses will have no weight.

This will become part of the anti death penalty PR
machine - the anti death penalty folks will blame the
system for not allowing the “truth” to come out, by
muzzling these witnesses, even though Davis’
attorneys had to do this intentionally, knowing that
the witnesses couldn’t be heard, because of the
hearsay rule.

The defense couldn’t call Coles, because he would
have been a strong witness to rebut his alleged
confessions, therefore making things worse for Davis.
I seems obvious that the defense made a statement as
to how fragile and unreliable these “confession”
witnesses were that Davis’ attorneys refused to call

Hargrove being wrongly allowed to testify must have
been a surprise.

“Recantation” Witnesses

The additional problem for Davis is this: There are
solid witnesses against Davis who did not recant.

The recantation witnesses claims that the police
pressured or threatened them into falsely testifying
make no sense.


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By culheath, March 31, 2011 at 4:17 am Link to this comment

Now tell me the court is not filled with sociopaths incapable of empathy, intellectually clever, but nevertheless dumb as a bag of ball peen hammers emotionally.

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By scholasticus, March 31, 2011 at 12:08 am Link to this comment

Link to the documents referred to above (“You’re
a lifesaver”, etc.):

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By berniem, March 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment

Didn’t the Nazis also have a Supreme Court whose decisions were never to be questioned and considered infallible based on their interpretation of what served as their constitution? FREE BRADLEY MANNING!!!!!

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By MeHere, March 30, 2011 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment

Killings ‘R Us. 

We kill
-with the death penalty
-by sending soldiers to wars
-by depriving people of adequate employment, health care and education
-by making arms easily available
-by destroying air, water and soil
....and more.

It’s interesting that those that get killed here and abroad largely belong in the
same socio-economic level.  I wonder, would this fit into the category of

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By tedmurphy41, March 30, 2011 at 9:59 am Link to this comment

I suppose the supreme Court judges were too busy with golf appointments and sundry chores to bother with such a life or death case.
Although I am an agnostic, I hope there is a Supreme Being who will eventually hear the reasons why these justices behaved in such a callous manner and, when their craven attempts for excuses are heard and rejected, the ultimate penalty is imposed upon them;
there will, of course, be NO appeal to His judgement!

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By MK Ultra, March 30, 2011 at 9:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Davis shouldn’t have much to worry about since the DEA confiscated all the drugs in the possession of the State of GA destined for death row inmates.  They were concerned with the fact that said drugs may or may not have met standards, they’re just good, caring and humane that way.  Maybe, they’ll just hang him now.  People in the State of GA are really good at that kind of thing.

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By Inherit The Wind, March 30, 2011 at 6:28 am Link to this comment

Y’know, this is one of those times when the President’s power of the pardon can override the most illogical and unjust of laws and Supreme Court bobblings.  The idea that the USSC could actually say it’s OK to execute an innocent as long as the rules are followed is to violate the ENTIRE principle of our justice system—that the prosecution must PROVE the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

While all of us would like to kill slowly and with great pain a person who hurt a member of our family, or who engages in serial killing, etc, (Remember the question Dukakis was asked in the 1988 debate?) our justice system is SUPPOSED to be dis-interested, seeking only the truth and society’s protection, not revenge.

But study after study shows the death penalty is not justly applied.  Did you know that until the 1980’s, no White person was ever executed for killing a non-White person in our nation’s history?  Not one, not unless that killer was executed for killing a White person as well.

The death penalty needs to be outlawed.

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By loki686, March 30, 2011 at 1:30 am Link to this comment

What more would you expect from one most the most violent nations in history?
Killing is what we do best.
It’s in our blood.

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By TDoff, March 30, 2011 at 12:54 am Link to this comment

‘Tinkering With the Machinery of Death’ is the national pastime of the US. Over half of our federal budget, most of our disposable wealth, is squandered upon the Military-Industrial complex. So our economy, and our financial well-being, depends upon war. War is not a peaceful, life-affirming pursuit.

Our ‘wonderful, wonderful’ troops murder innocent civilians, selected at random, whom they call ‘savages’, as a sport, a game.

Our highest ‘leaders’ and ‘legal officials’ rule it ‘lawful’ to torture people to death.

Of course the highest court in our land would think it OK to execute innocents.

‘Tinkering’? Death seems to be our raison d’etre.

Probably because we’re a ‘christian’ nation, and are anxious to have everyone ‘meet our maker’.

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