It seems that Georgia’s whole justice system is a travesty equal to if not surpassing the abortion of what’s laughingly called “justice” in Texas. Not content with throwing a 17-yr-old in jail for 10 years for having consensual sex with a 16-yr-old girl that she initiated, convicting him under a statute that was meant for career sex offenders, tomorrow it plans to execute a man for a crime it’s patently obvious to everyone he didn’t commit. And there’s one thing Genarlow Wilson and Troy Davis have in common that won’t surprise you: they’re both black.
Troy Davis was convicted of killing a police officer in 1989 on the basis of testimony from the man who was probably the actual killer and from eyewitnesses who now say they were browbeat by police when they tried to tell the truth.
Key witnesses have [said] that police prodded them to implicate Davis. The affidavit from Darrell Collins, the friend who was with Davis that night, was typical.
“I told them it was Red and not Troy who was messing with that man, but they didn’t want to hear that,” Collins, who was 16 at the time, said in his 2002 statement. “The detectives told me, ‘Fine, have it your way. Kiss your life goodbye because you’re going to jail.’ After a couple of hours of the detectives yelling at me and threatening me, I finally broke down and told them what they wanted to hear.”
Seven of the nine witnesses at Davis’ trial tell similar stories and have recanted their original statements, now admitting that it was Sylvester “Red” Coles who fought with and then killed Officer Mark MacPhail. State AG Thurlow Baker’s office investigated the shooting (because a cop was the victim) and came to the same conclusion.
Adding to the confusion, the Georgia attorney general’s office, which later looked into the case, portrays Coles as threatening to shoot the homeless man [the reason MacPhail interfered – MA]; the district attorney who tried the case has repeatedly said that Davis made the threat.
So everybody but the District Atty who prosecuted the case thinks it was Coles, not Davis; all the key witnesses have given depositions to the effect that they lied because they were threatened by police if they didn’t; the AG’s own investigation points at Coles; and still they’re going to kill Davis tomorrow. What excuse could they possibly be using to deny Davis a stay-of-execution and a new hearing?
It’s Bill Clinton’s fault.
At the heart of Davis’s difficulties is a law passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing — the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
The legislation was aimed at bomber Timothy J. McVeigh but has had far broader consequences: It limits the reasons for which federal courts can overturn death penalty convictions. In Davis’s case, it has helped block the exploration of witnesses’ statements that they had lied at trial.
Before the law, the federal courts intervened to provide “relief” to death row inmates — that is, a new trial, new sentencing hearing or a commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment — in about 45 percent of cases, though the rate was declining. But between 2000 and 2007, federal courts intervened to provide such relief to the death row inmate in about 10 percent of cases, according to a forthcoming study.
“People might say the law makes the system more efficient. But we have significantly increased the likelihood of executing someone who is actually innocent,” said David R. Dow, a University of Houston law professor who co-authored the study with Eric M. Freedman of Hofstra University.
It needs to be said here that the law in question does NOT prevent new hearings in capital cases if evidence not available at the time of trial is unearthed or if substantial questions about the way the trial was conducted are raised. That makes pointing the finger at an anti-terrorism law, no matter how flawed the law itself may be, nothing more than a ploy to avoid taking responsibility for a case badly botched by an angry police dept that railroaded the first suspect who came to hand and a prosecutor who wanted a conviction of somebody more than he wanted to try the right man.
The other excuse they’re using is even more infuriating than the one above: they’re not impressed by the recantations.
“A recantation . . . does not prove that the witness’ testimony was in every part the purest fabrication,” Chief Assistant District Attorney David T. Lock wrote in legal papers filed last week.
Nobody said it did but what it does do is cast doubt on the fairness of the trial and suggest serious police misconduct, which is, after all, what the stonewalling is all about. Conservatives are blind-faith, no-matter-what-they-do supporters of the police (except when those police are looking for more money), especially when cops step over the line into brutality or faking evidence. Admitting that Davis may be in jail because Savannah detectives coerced witness testimony would require investigations of their conduct and possible criminal charges.
Conservatives hate controlling police behavior. They hate that cops have to follow the same rules the rest of us do and that they can’t just beat to death somebody who damaged or swiped some conservative’s property. More than anything, they hate being forced to throw cops in jail just because they made an unimportant little mistake like sending the wrong guy to the gas chamber. Davis is black, isn’t he? Then he must be guilty of something. Let it be this, and good riddance.
The parole board met this morning (may still be at it this hour) to hear arguments from Davis’ defense team on commuting his sentence. At least one of the recanters will be there.
The state Board of Pardons and Paroles began a clemency hearing behind closed doors shortly after 9 a.m. Questions about Davis’ possible innocence surfaced after his death sentence for the murder of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Seven of nine witnesses who helped implicate Davis have since recanted much of the testimony used to convict him.
Davis’ lawyers and sisters arrived shortly before the hearing, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) sat on the front pew in the hearing room, ready to support Davis’ clemency request.
Neither Lewis, nor Davis’ lawyers, would comment prior to the hearings.
One of the witnesseses, Tonya Johnson, arrived with Davis’ lawyers. Johnson is prepared to tell the board that she saw the real killer run from the crime scene and stash two guns in an abandoned house — information she says she initially withheld from authorities.
Others in the hearing include Davis’ mother and representatives of Amnesty International USA , a human rights group opposed to the death penalty that has taken up Davis’ cause.
Johnson, who is 36 now but was a teenager at the time of the shooting, is trying to live with the consequences of the fear that made her keep her mouth shut.
If Troy Anthony Davis is executed Tuesday, Tonya Johnson will be in mourning. Not just because she has known Davis since they played together as children. But because she will have to accept that she played a role in his death.
“It will be hard to live with myself after what I [have] done,” she says. “It will be very hard.”
Hard because Johnson believes Davis is an innocent man. Harder still because she says she did not tell the whole truth to police when they questioned her about the events that took place on a summer night in 1989.
Fear ate at her soul then, she says.
She never spoke openly about the murder of Savannah police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Not with her friends, not with her family. Only years later did she tell a cousin, who nudged her to “do the right thing” and step forward.
Seven of nine key witnesses who implicated Davis in MacPhail’s murder have recanted their testimony since the 1991 trial. Others, like Johnson, later made sworn statements that shifted the blame away from Davis.
Some say they lied initially or withheld vital information. They were young then, as fearful of the police as they were of neighborhood thugs. Some were in trouble with the law and say they acted out of self-preservation.
Johnson is still scared of retaliation from the man she thinks really killed MacPhail.
Nobody should be put in that position, especially a kid. But that’s the position Georgia justice officials have foisted on everyone connected with this case.
They ought to be ashamed of themselves, but there’s no sign of it.