As time draws nearer to Troy Davis’ execution date, he has been granted an opportunity to prove his innocence. Having faced the possibility of execution three times within the past two decades and on one occasion coming within two hours of death, Davis is being given another chance to present his case before a judge on June 23. The date of the hearing was planned for June 30, however, due to pleading of the lawyers involved in the case, the date was moved up.
Davis, an African-American, was convicted of the 1989 murder of Mark Allan McPhail, a white, off-duty police officer in Savannah, Georgia. For two decades, Davis has claimed innocence. According to the renowned human rights organization, Amnesty International (AI), facts have surfaced within the past 20 years to suggest that he may be correct.
Of the nine main witnesses who testified against Davis, seven have recanted their testimonies, saying that the investigators coerced them. In a video created to increase awareness about the Troy Davis case, AI, in collaboration with the band State Radio, quoted the witnesses' statements recanting their accounts.
One of the witnesses, Darrell "D.D." Collins, said, “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.”
Another witness, Antoine Williams, said that when he signed the paper incriminating Davis, he was unaware of what he had attested to. “They gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read,” said Williams. Another of the witnesses, Jeffrey Sappm said, “I got tired of them harassing me. … I told them that Troy told me he did it, but it wasn’t true.”
The two remaining witnesses also present a challenge to the reliability of the verdict on Davis’ case, expresses the AI report. One of them is the other possible suspect, who was present with Davis and accused him of being the killer. The other can only attest to the color of the murderer’s t-shirt.
In addition to these uncertainties, neither the murder weapon nor any physical evidence has been found to link Davis to the crime.
According to the Amnesty report, during the years of his trial, the budget of the Georgia organization representing death row inmates was reduced by two-thirds. This left only two lawyers to represent the 80 death row inmates in Georgia at that time.
In addition to this drastic budget cut crippling the possibility of a fair trial for those placed on the death row, AI reported, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) placed further limitations on Davis’ ability to obtain a fair trial. This law reduced sentencing times and the number of appeals afforded to convicted criminals.
Until recently, the court had never allowed for a new hearing that would take into account the new testimonies. In August of 2009, however, the court decided to offer Troy Davis a second hearing in response to a petition made by Davis on the basis of a claim to “actual innocence.”
The second hearing is planned to take place on Wednesday June 23 at 10 a.m. It is not going to be the same as a new trial, however, because the burden of proof is on Davis to prove his innocence, while in a new trial the burden of proof lies on the prosecutor and the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty.