Supreme Court Stays Execution of Troy Davis

Bump and Update: The Supreme Court granted a stay of execution at 5:20 pm ET.

Troy Davis, who many believe is innocent and wrongly convicted, is hours away from execution in Georgia.


An African American, he was convicted for killing a white police officer, Mark Allen McPhail, in 1991. The case was largely built on witness testimony. But since the trial, seven of the nine non-police witnesses said they were coerced by police and have recanted their testimony. There is no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. The murder weapon was never found, and there's no DNA or fingerprint evidence.

Rep. John Lewis says:

Rep. John Lewis: This is a very sad and grave day in the state of Georgia, in our nation and in the world. A man that could really be innocent--and all of the evidence tends to dramatize and quantify that this man may go to his death later today as an innocent human being. And when you commit that final decision and later discover that he is truly, truly innocent of the crime that he's been accused of committing, there is not any way to bring him back. I just think it's wrong and it's unfair, and it will be the greatest miscarriage of justice.

The majority of the people that testified in this case have now recanted their testimony and their position. And I don't quite understand how the system of justice in America and in the state of Georgia can come any way close to being fair to this one human being. For the state of Georgia and for our judicial system in America to stand by and see this man executed would be a barbaric act, as far as I'm concerned.

Our past coverage of Davis's case is here.

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    You may be thinking of (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:04:46 PM EST
    Johnnie Lindsay who was released this week from prison after serving 25 years for a rape he didn't commit.

    You're right. I got my outrages mixed up. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Teresa on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:09:38 PM EST
    This case is still a terrible blight on our country. It truly makes me sick to my stomach. Is is too late for the Supreme Court to stop it?

    This is terrible. (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by indy in sc on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:07:54 PM EST
    Once done, it can never be undone.  Any chance of last minute commutation or other stay from the governor?

    only chance... (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by mindfulmission on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:16:22 PM EST
    ... is from the US Supreme Court, who are considering the case today.

    There are about 2.5 hours left.


    I'm of the opinion... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Jerrymcl89 on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:28:00 PM EST
    ... that as an absolute minimum standard, no one should be executed in the absence of physical evidence. Witnesses just aren't reliable enough.

    I am of the opinion that no one (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by befuddledvoter on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:31:48 PM EST
    should be executed ever.

    I don't have a problem with that. (none / 0) (#16)
    by Jerrymcl89 on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 04:35:34 PM EST
    There are a limited number of cases (the Tim McVeigh's and Charles Manson's of the world) in which, given the obiousness of guilt and the particularly heinous nature of the crime, I'd support the death penalty. But I'm willing to live with sending those guys to jail for life in order to avoid cases like this one.

    I have read horrendous reports of (none / 0) (#24)
    by hairspray on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 08:31:29 PM EST
    crimes against children and unfortunately if the evidence is there, I have no problem with death penalty for those people.  I once read a remark made by someone on crime who said that crimes against the weakest and most innocent in our society goes against a deep value of protection and generativity. Once that line is crossed the value of the criminal to society is gone.  Maybe that is why even prisoners victimize child killers in jail. Otherwise, there are too many sentences like this one that have no physical evidence and simply eye-witness accounts and should be stopped.  But I agree, Manson and MacVeigh wouldn't get any mercy in my court either.

    Davis execution stayed by USSCt (5.00 / 4) (#17)
    by reaganlaw on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 04:42:52 PM EST
    according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Here's the link (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by indy in sc on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 05:44:18 PM EST
    to the AJC story.

    Troy Davis Granted Stay Of Execution (5.00 / 2) (#22)
    by lawyerjim on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 06:10:00 PM EST
    From democraticunderground.com

    Source: WsbTv

    The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for Georgia inmate Troy Davis just after 5 p.m. Tuesday. Davis was set to be executed at 7 p.m.

    Both the Georgia Supreme Court and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles refused late Monday to stop the execution of convicted cop-killer Troy Davis.

    A roster of big-name supporters, including former President Jimmy Carter and South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have taken up Davis's cause. They insist that the 39-year-old Davis deserves a new trial.

    Last-minute appeals from condemned inmates are nothing unusual. However, experts say so much attention is being lavished on Davis because the case hinges on the most fundamental question in the criminal justice system: "Did he do it?"

    Appeals usually try to expose legal technicalities, not actual claims of innocence, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

    May Troy Davis get a new trial (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by mexboy on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 08:08:40 PM EST
    Our justice system needs to be more about justice and less about DA's building their careers on convictions.

    i do not condone of murder under any circumstances, be it an individual murdering another, or the government doing the killing.

    So this is a good day for all those who value human life.

    puzzlement (5.00 / 0) (#30)
    by diogenes on Wed Sep 24, 2008 at 10:29:59 PM EST
    According to Wikipedia, Troy Davis admitted that he was at the murder scene.  Are we saying that seven eyewitnesses are covering up to protect the real killer?  If the police wanted to somehow railroad someone then how was Davis picked as opposed to these seven other people?  Was Davis really beating the homeless man, or is that now in dispute as well?  Does Davis have any idea who did it?
    Seven eyewitnesses who could be "pressured" by the police to change their testimony at the time of trial could just as easily change their testimony now (immune from risk of perjury charges) to save someone from death row.

    I started to ask you last night to write about (none / 0) (#1)
    by Teresa on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 02:59:55 PM EST
    this. I believe that Mr. Davis has time cards from work during the period in question and his boss says he was there. This is a travesty. Is there nothing to stop it?

    That is my question too. If it could be reversed (none / 0) (#2)
    by hairspray on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:04:24 PM EST
    it probably would have happened already.  How sickening.

    Clearly, we are reach the bottom (none / 0) (#7)
    by koshembos on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:26:41 PM EST
    This case and the whole justice system are in sad shape. Currently, I am involved in a case where the government is sued. The government lawyers has no problem causing people to change their testimony to fit the government.

    All in all, economy included, we just a ghost of a decent country. We are almost as bad as a 3rd world dictatorship.

    I never understood (none / 0) (#9)
    by professorWagstaff on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:30:22 PM EST
    how is killing someone punishment anyway? Isn't that one of the reasons why people commit suicide? Because it's a way out? I really hope that the courts take another look because you people are right, this is something that can never be reversed. What ever happend to beyond a reasonable doubt?? There is something very atavistic about the way we preceive justice here in the U.S. Good luck Troy.

    If the Supremes, (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:37:59 PM EST
    after looking at all the evidence (and not just the evidence one side or the other feels is important), decide to let the execution proceed, then shouldn't we accept that it is beyond a reasonable doubt?

    That is true... (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by professorWagstaff on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:52:49 PM EST
    but what about the 7 jurors that stepped up and said they now thought he didn't and that they (the jurors) felt coherced? Wouldn't that add a certin level of doubt that maybe he didn't kill the police officer?

    uh that's not jurors (none / 0) (#19)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 05:19:40 PM EST
    they are witnesses...

    I'd like to know more about these 7. Their backgrounds, why they felt threatened, etc..


    I know prosecutors are leery of (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by hairspray on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 08:36:18 PM EST
    recants for various reasons.  But it isn't the issue here as much as there was no physical evidence and the case was based on eye-witness accounts. That is not enough to kill someone, period.  I think the case proceeds because it was a police officer and we all know about the thin blue line.

    Hmm (5.00 / 0) (#15)
    by Steve M on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 04:32:29 PM EST
    My understanding is that appellate review at this stage is so circumscribed that it's really not about the "reasonable doubt" standard any longer.  It's not as though the Supreme Court is conducting a de novo review of the trial record and putting itself in place of the jury to determine whether there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

    I do think people are a little quick to opine "omigod! this guy is innocent!" based on a one-sided presentation of the record, but hey, that's how it goes.  While the process is far from infallible, it's important for people to understand that there is no requirement that an execution must be delayed until every last person in America is satisfied of guilt - including people who only heard about the case on the final day.

    Sometimes it reminds me of the Terri Schiavo debacle - all these people going "wait, wait, I just heard about this case on CNN, and I still have questions that need to be answered before they let this woman die!"


    As an aside, does anyone know (none / 0) (#13)
    by Exeter on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 04:13:04 PM EST
    the rational in concluding that the consitutional writers did not intend "cruel and unsual" to mean death?

    Surely (none / 0) (#14)
    by Cairo Faulkner on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 04:17:34 PM EST
    ...it is that the death penalty was, as the time, not unusual.

    Well (none / 0) (#18)
    by Steve M on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 04:48:34 PM EST
    considering the death penalty was routinely imposed at the time, and it kept on getting imposed after the ratification of the Constitution without the Founders screaming bloody murder, it's pretty clear that the death penalty was not "cruel and unusual" under the standards of THEIR time.

    There's actually an interesting bit of history in all this.  If you go back to medieval England, before modern notions of hygiene were well understood, any jail sentence of more than two weeks was effectively a death sentence because you were bound to contract something and die.  So basically, any crime that was too serious to be punished by lesser means simply had to be punished by the death penalty - there was no other option available.

    Eventually, the English solved this by devising "transportation," aka exile, as a remedy.  At first they sent prisoners to the American colonies, and then later to Australia.  And meanwhile, as improved methods of hygiene became more widespread, imprisonment became a more and more viable option.

    So from a historical perspective, the fact that the death penalty became less and less common had less to do with "evolving standards of decency" and more to do with the fact that alternatives to the death penalty simply became viable in the real world.


    It is (none / 0) (#27)
    by call me Ishmael on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 10:08:25 PM EST
    also the case that the constitution provides for jury trials in cases capital which many have used as a case that the death penalty was constitutional at the time.  The real question has always been does that make it constitutional now and how would you determine a continuing constitutionality.  At least since the middle of the 20c the courts have recognized "an evolving standards of decency" argument but again the question is how do you determine the standards, ie. what sort of evidence enables you to judge that standard.

    The history is really a bit more complicated than the hygiene question.  The death penalty is, of course, quite ancient and the first real moves against it (at least in the Anglo-American context) were in the late 17th and 18th centuries and had to do with the perception that the scaffold caused more problems than it cured.  Prisons at that point were still hygienic messes and it wasn't until after the movement against the death penalty (and in favor of lesser sanctions like transportation) took root that the prison itself was transformed and disciplined.

    Still in the 19c you see a dramatic decrease in the number of capital penalties and in the 20c in the actual number of executions.

    There is a great historiography on all of this if people are interested.


    The Constitution appears to authorize it (none / 0) (#29)
    by Peter G on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 11:01:55 PM EST
    also (by negative implication) in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit the federal and state governments, respectively, from "depriv[ing] any person of life ... without due process of law."  And in the Double Jeopardy Clause, which guarantees that a person not be placed more than once "in jeopardy of life or limb."  I oppose the death penalty in all cases for a number of reasons, but the argument that it is categorically prohibited by the U.S. Constitution is a tough one.

    There was a short essay on the (none / 0) (#26)
    by kenosharick on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 09:00:04 PM EST
    editorial page of the AJC by Prof. Gemma Puglisi of American University about Troy Davis. She spoke from the heart as a friend; it was very touching and I am glad he got the stay.

    One battle is won.. (none / 0) (#28)
    by CoralGables on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 10:26:08 PM EST
    and another battle is lost today.

    Richard "Ric Ric" Henyard, a Florida man convicted of shooting two young sisters in the head after raping and shooting their mother was executed Tuesday after a two-hour delay while authorities awaited final rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Henyard was pronounced dead at 8:16 p.m. He had been condemned for the death of 7-year-old Jamilya Lewis and her 3-year-old sister, Jasmine.

    Dorothy Lewis, the mother of the murdered girls, wrote in a prepared statement read by her husband that she still does "not have a feeling of resolution."

    "This day has not brought any closure to my life," her husband, Hugh Brockington read. "Taking the life of Mr. Henyard is not going to revive my daughters."

    more here

    prevention (none / 0) (#31)
    by diogenes on Wed Sep 24, 2008 at 10:36:46 PM EST
    Perps always ask for parole.  Victims stop advocating against it.  Even with "life without parole" sentences there is a reasonable chance that anyone short of Charles Manson will somehow get out in ten, twenty, or thirty years due to clemency, etc.  This sort of man is a high risk to reoffend if released and to be violent to fellow inmates and corrections officers in prison.  
    There should be a special maxi prisons for life without parole inmates like this guy (if you don't want to execute them) staffed by death penalty opponents.