Stay of execution for Troy Davis

Troy Davis received a stay of execution on Tuesday less than two hours before he was due to be put to death by lethal injection in Georgia. Troy Davis has been on death row for 17 years for a murder he maintains he did not commit.  

The US Supreme Court issued the stay to allow it to meet on Monday to consider whether to hear Troy Davis’s appeal from a March 2008 ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court. The Georgia court had ruled 4-3 against ordering a new trial or a court hearing to present the post-conviction evidence.

In an opinion dissenting from this decision, the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, joined by two other Justices, wrote that “In this case, nearly every witness who identified Davis as the shooter at trial has now disclaimed his or her ability to do so reliably. Three persons have stated that Sylvester Coles confessed to being the shooter.

“Two witnesses have stated that Sylvester Coles, contrary to his trial testimony, possessed a handgun immediately after the murder. Another witness has provided a description of the crimes that might indicate that Sylvester Coles was the shooter.”

The Chief Justice wrote that “the collective effect of all of Davis’s new testimony, if it were to be found credible by the trial court in a hearing, would show the probability that a new jury would find reasonable doubt of Davis’s guilt or a least sufficient residual doubt to decline to impose the death penalty.”

Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 of the murder of 27-year-old 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 was also convicted of assaulting Larry Young, a homeless man, who was accosted immediately before Officer MacPhail was shot.

At the trial, Troy Davis admitted that he had been at the scene of the shooting, but claimed that he had neither assaulted Larry Young nor shot Officer MacPhail. There was no physical evidence against Troy Davis and the weapon used in the crime was never found.

The case against him 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. In addition, there is post-trial testimony implicating another man as the gunman.

The stay of execution will stay in force while the US Supreme Court considers whether to take the case. If it decides not to, the stay “shall terminate automatically” and the State of Georgia could set a new execution date. If the Court agrees to hear the appeal, the stay will remain in force until the Court issues its final ruling on Davis’s petition.

Many tens of thousands of people in the USA and around the world have appealed for clemency for Troy Davis. Among them were former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Pope Benedict XVI; the European Union, the European Parliament, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe; former FBI Director William Sessions, and former and current members of US Congress Bob Barr, Carol Moseley Braun and John Lewis. In this last week, as the execution approached, media attention on the case has remained high.

International standards prohibit the execution of anyone whose guilt is in doubt. Amnesty International opposes Troy Davis’s execution unconditionally, regardless of questions of guilt or innocence, as it does all use of the death penalty.