Friday, April 15, 2011

"Death is not a societal necessity"


The state of Georgia is once again going to set an execution date for Troy Davis. What's wrong with that? There's a lot of evidence that Troy Davis didn't commit the crime of which he was convicted.

According to Amnesty USA, Davis was

sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia; a murder he maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles – the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

Davis' case has kicked around in the courts for 20 years! For fear of "frivolous appeals" our legal system has made it extraordinarily difficult for prisoners to get relief from unjust or misguided verdicts in their original trials. So these things drag on and on. Too often, resolution simply means that the courts say what amounts to "sorry -- we took too long and we can't go back and help you." Should anyone die because the system can't be made to work?

Amnesty International has carefully studied Davis' case as an example of what's wrong with the death penalty in the United States. Their conclusion:

In the absence of judicial relief for Troy Davis, whether he lives or dies in Georgia’s execution chamber will be a political decision. There is no court order requiring that he be killed. His death is not a societal necessity. It can be stopped if the political will and moral courage can be found in those with authority and influence over the case.

To learn more about Davis and how to contact those political authorities that can make a difference, visit Amnesty USA.
***
How do people come to be convicted by eye witness testimony that turns out to be not true? Apparently it happens all too often. Brandon L. Garrett has a new book, Convicting the Innocent, that explores this question. Here's an excerpt from Slate in which he looks at a case in which a young woman positively identified the wrong man as her rapist.

The trial records I looked at suggest that unsound and suggestive police identification procedures played a large and troubling role. Police used unnecessary show-ups, where they presented the eyewitness with just the defendant. Or stacked lineups to make the defendant stand out. Or offered suggestive remarks, telling the eyewitness whom to identify or to expect a suspect in a lineup. Or confirmed the witness's choice as the right one. Even well-intended, encouraging remarks, like "good job, you picked the guy," can have a dramatic effect on eyewitness memory, as psychologists have shown.

Indeed, more than one-third of the cases I looked at involved multiple eyewitnesses, as many as three or four or five eyewitnesses who all somehow misidentified the same innocent person. Further, almost half of the eyewitness identifications were cross-racial. Psychologists have long shown how eyewitnesses have greater difficulty identifying persons of another race.

Even well-intentioned police can be under pressure to arrest someone, anyone; prosecutors are judged by their conviction rate. This stuff happens. Courts can be places where mistakes, even honest ones, create injustice.

Given that reality, it seems madness that the state should be in the business of judicially killing people. Some mistakes can't be fixed, ever.

Photo by Scott Langley.

3 comments:

Darlene said...

I have been against the death penalty from the time I first knew about it. It is murder even though it is done by the state. And when an innocent man or woman is put to death it is horrible.

The prosecutors who withhold evidence to win a case should be held accountable and lose their license to practice law, but, as in the recent Texas case, they continue to practice law flaunting it and sending innocent people to jail.

dudleysharp said...

Based upon the "innocence" evidence presented in the June, 2010 hearing, it was clear that the federal district court would rule against Davis and that SCOTUS would reject an appeal, as it did on 3/28/11.

This shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone that knew the facts of the case.

Anti death penalty folks, were, of course, fed a bunch of nonsense by their leadership and they simply accepted it.

As I wrote 6/25/10

Innocence claims will offer no reprieve for Troy Davis

Based upon the media reports, alone, of the two day hearing of June 2010, just as I suspect Davis' attorneys have known all along, the appellate case cannot prevail in overturning the findings that Troy Davis is guilty of the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail.

What happened in the two day hearing was very ordinary, if you are aware of anti death penalty nonsense. (1)

Sylvester "Redd" Coles' "Confessions"

The blockbuster witnesses who were going to testify that the "real murderer" Sylvester "Redd" Coles had confessed to them were not allowed to testify, because Davis' attorneys refused to call Coles to testify, thereby rendering these witnesses in possession of hearsay evidence and, therefore, not able to testify.

Well, Judge Moore did allow, wrongly, one of them, Anthony Hargrove, to testify. The judge "said that unless Coles is called to the stand, he might give (Hargrove's) hearsay testimony "no weight whatsoever."

Of course, Davis' attorneys didn't call Coles. Davis' attorneys made sure Hargrove's testimony as well as the other "confession" witnesses will have no weight.

This will become part of the anti death penalty PR machine - the anti death penalty folks will blame the system for not allowing the "truth" to come out, by muzzling these witnesses, even though Davis' attorneys had to do this intentionally, knowing that the witnesses couldn't be heard, because of the hearsay rule.

The defense couldn't call Coles, because he would have been a strong witness to rebut his alleged confessions, therefore making things worse for Davis. I seems obvious that the defense made a statement as to how fragile and unreliable these "confession" witnesses were that Davis' attorneys refused to call Coles.

Hargrove being wrongly allowed to testify must have been a surprise.

"Recantation" Witnesses

The additional problem for Davis is this: There are solid witnesses against Davis who did not recant.

The recantation witnesses claims that the police pressured or threatened them into falsely testifying make no sense.

First, there were enough witnesses against Davis - the state had a solid case - therefore there was no reason to put lying witnesses on the stand. Even if we presume that some were pressured and threatened into false statements, both police and prosecutors knew, before trial, that they need not risk putting any such perjuring witnesses on the stand. They had enough evidence without them.

contd

dudleysharp said...

contd 1

Why risk perjured testimony when you don't need it? They wouldn't have.

Secondly, the non recantation witnesses, the police investigators, and prosecutors have been consistent from the beginning of the case - those witnesses haven't recanted, and police and prosecutors have testified that there were no threats or pressure for false testimony and those consistent, non recanting witnesses gave truthful statements without pressure or threats.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that the investigating officers or the prosecutors had ever been involved in such illegal activities before and the non recantation witnesses give more weight to the position that police and prosecutors did not pressure or threaten for false testimony and to the proposition that the recantations were the lies.

Judges are very aware of false testimony and how pressure can be applied to produce it, by community activists, such as anti death penalty folks.

Judges are aware that pressure is a two sided coin and they must consider both sides of it and how that may effect credibility. In a case such as this, the evidence is such that Davis cannot prevail.

Credibility - this says it all.

"(Troy) Davis' legal team also summoned Benjamin Gordon, who testified that he saw Sylvester "Redd" Coles shoot and kill the officer." (2)

Gordon, who is incarcerated and has at least six prior felony convictions, said he never came forward because he did not trust the police and feared what Coles might do to him or his family in retaliation.

"Is there any doubt in your mind that Redd Coles fired that shot?" Horton asked. "No, sir," Gordon replied.

Davis' legal team has long maintained that Coles, who was at the scene and came forward after (Police Officer) MacPhail's slaying and implicated Davis to police, was the actual triggerman. Coles has denied shooting MacPhail.

Beth Attaway Burton, the state's lead attorney, got Gordon to acknowledge he never said he saw Coles shoot MacPhail in interviews with police "or in sworn statements he gave Davis' legal team in 2003 and 2008."

"What made you change your story today?" Burton asked.

"It's the truth," Gordon said. "

I think the judge will have to weigh Gordon's credibility similarly to that of Davis' other supportive witnesses - ZERO.

-----------------------------

Note: We will hear protests that Davis' attorneys tried to subpoena Coles the day before the hearing, but couldn't locate him. The judge didn't buy it saying that there was no excuse based upon them having much time to prepare for the hearing. It's clear they didn't want Coles. When Davis loses this appeal, he will then appeal to a higher court, which will uphold the denial.

(1) 3 of many

"The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception--death-penalty-opponents--draft.aspx

The 130 (now 139) death row "innocents" scam
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

contd

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