Troy Davis faces fourth execution date in two years

US death row inmate Troy Davis once again faces the prospect of an execution date. This is despite not having had a court hearing into compelling evidence, collected since his trial nearly 18 years ago, that he may be innocent. He has come close to execution three times in the past two years.

His final hope of being granted a court hearing rests with the US Supreme Court. A petition was filed in the Court on Tuesday 19 May. Three days earlier, a stay of execution granted by a federal court in October last year expired. The state could move to set an execution date at any time.

Troy Davis was convicted of the murder of a police officer in Savannah, Georgia, in 1989. Since the 1991 trial, the testimony of all but two of the state’s witnesses who testified against him has been recanted or changed amid allegations that the police used coercion and suggestive identification techniques during their investigation of the murder.  One of the two witnesses who have not altered their trial testimony is himself the subject of new witness statements implicating him as the gunman.

Four of the jurors who convicted Troy Davis have since signed affidavits saying that the post-conviction evidence gave them cause for concern. They said they supported judicial relief in the form of a new trial or an evidentiary hearing, or executive commutation of the death sentence.

In May 2009, Troy Davis said: “I have faced execution and the torment of saying goodbye to my family three times in the last two years and I may experience that trauma yet again; I would not wish this on my worst enemy and to know I am innocent only compounds the injustice I am facing.”

As the case stands, the pursuit of the death penalty against Troy Davis continues to contravene international safeguards which prohibit the execution of anyone whose guilt is not based on “clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts”.  

“This is one in a long line of cases in the USA that should give even ardent supporters of the death penalty pause for thought, since it provides further evidence of the danger, inherent in the death penalty, of irrevocable error,” said Amnesty International’s USA researcher Rob Freer.

“Last month a federal judge said that to execute Troy Davis would be ‘unconscionable’. She was surely right.”

In September 2008, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Troy Davis clemency, before a court issued the stay of execution that has just expired. Amnesty International is campaigning to have the Board change its mind and to commute the death sentence.