Court says Troy Davis can present evidence
Updated 12:45 p.m.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday gave Troy Anthony Davis the chance to present evidence in court that the condemned man has said for years will clear him of the murder of a Savannah police officer.
The high court ordered a federal judge to “receive testimony and findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis’] innocence.”
Davis sits on death row for the killing of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989. His bid to the nation’s highest court was his last chance in the court system.
Since Davis’ 1991 trial, seven of nine state witnesses have recanted their testimony and other witnesses have implicated Sylvester “Redd” Coles as the shooter. Coles, who has denied killing MacPhail, was at the scene and was the first person to implicate Davis in the shooting.
Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a dissent, saying the federal judge assigned to hear the case will not be able to grant Davis relief. “It becomes stranger still when one realizes that the allegedly new evidence we shunt off to be examined by the district court has already been considered (and rejected) multiple times,” Scalia wrote.
The high court, Scalia said, is sending a judge in the Southern District of Georgia on “a fool’s errand. ... I truly do not see how the district court can discern what is expected of it.”
But Justice John Paul Stevens cited prior court precedent that said it would be “an atrocious violation of our Constitution and the principles upon which it is based” to execute an innocent man.
“Imagine a petitioner in Davis’ situation who possesses new evidence conclusively and definitively proving, beyond any scintilla of doubt, that he is an innocent man,” Steven wrote. “The dissent’s reasoning would allow such a petitioner to be put to death nonetheless.”
Stevens was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. The order noted that the court’s newest justice, Sonia Sotomayer, did not participate in the decision.
Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta called the high court’s order "an immensely important decision.”
Still, Bright said, the order shifts the burden of proof onto Davis to show he was innocent. “That’s a much more difficult proposition,” Bright said. “It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it’s a significant burden to overcome.”
Tom Dunn, one of Davis’ lawyers, said the defense team was extremely pleased with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to grant a hearing on the innocence claims. “Although the burden we face is high, we are confident in Mr. Davis’ innocence and our evidence.”
In April, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, by a 2-1 vote, rejected Davis’ last appeal.
Davis’ claims of innocence have attracted international attention, with former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI calling for Davis not to be put to death.
MacPhail’s family and Chatham County prosecutors have long contended Davis is the real killer and should be put to death for the slaying.
“I’m in shock,” said MacPhail’s 75-year-old mother, Anneliese MacPhail of Columbus. “I was really hoping they’d deny this appeal, not just shove it off to somewhere else. They’re just pushing it back and forth to all the courts over and over again. This week it will be 20 years since Mark was killed and I would like it to come to an end. ... It’s devastating because we don’t get any peace.”
The fourth of five children, MacPhail had two children of his own. His 21-year-old daughter lives in Texas and his 20-year-old son attends college in Savannah. “I don’t know how he does it,” Anneliese MacPhail said of her grandson. “It’s tearing him apart, because he never knew his father. He was seven weeks old.”
As for Davis, she said, “If you tell yourself for 20 years you didn’t do it, you start to believe it. I’m still convinced he did it.”
In a statement, Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker said the high court’s order allows all parties involved in the case another opportunity to be heard on the issues raised, including the question of recantation. “Hopefully, this hearing will resolve the doubts about the verdict handed down by the Chatham County jury 18 years ago,” he said.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court has granted a condemned Georgia inmate's request that his execution be delayed as he attempts to prove his innocence.
Troy Davis has always maintained his innocence in the 1989 killing of Officer Mark MacPhail.
The inmate, Troy Davis, has gained international support for his long-standing claim that he did not murder a Savannah police officer nearly two decades ago.
Justice John Paul Stevens on Monday ordered a federal judge to "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence."
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer supported the decision. Sonia Sotomayor, who was sworn in August 8 as the newest member of the high court, did not take part in the petition.
Davis' case has had a dramatic series of ups and downs in the past year. He was granted a stay of execution by the Supreme Court two hours before he was to be put to death last fall.
A month later, the justices reversed course and allowed the execution to proceed, but a federal appeals court then issued another stay.
The high court's latest ruling means Davis will continue to sit on death row.
Stevens said the risk of putting a potentially innocent man to death "provides adequate justification" for another evidentiary hearing.
His supporters in June delivered petitions bearing about 60,000 signatures to Chatham County, Georgia, District Attorney Larry Chisolm, calling for a new trial. Chisolm is the county's first African-American district attorney. Davis is also African-American.
Davis has always maintained his innocence in the 1989 killing of Officer Mark MacPhail. Witnesses said Davis, then 19, and two others were harassing a homeless man in a Burger King restaurant parking lot when the off-duty officer arrived to help the man. Witnesses testified at trial that Davis then shot MacPhail twice and fled.
But since his 1991 conviction, seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted their testimony. No physical evidence was presented linking Davis to the killing of the policeman.
The Georgia Pardons and Parole Board last year held closed-door hearings and reinterviewed the witnesses and Davis himself. The panel decided against clemency.
MacPhail's mother, Annaliese, told CNN at the time, "This is what we were hoping for, and I hope pretty soon that we will have some peace and start our life, especially my grandchildren -- my grandson and granddaughter. It has overshadowed their lives."
After the justices in October refused to grant a stay of execution, Davis' sister, Martina Correia, told CNN she was "disgusted" by the decision.
"It doesn't make any sense," she said. "We are praying for a miracle or some kind of intervention. We will regroup and fight. We will never stop fighting. We just can't be discouraged. The fight is not over till it's over."
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas objected to the court's decision Monday, calling it a "fool's errand."
"Petitioner's claim is a sure loser," wrote Scalia. "Transferring his petition to the [federal] District Court is a confusing exercise that can serve no purpose except to delay the state's execution of its lawful criminal judgment."
Ten days after the high court refused last October to intervene, a federal appeals court in Georgia granted a temporary stay of execution. Since then, further appeals by Davis' legal team have dragged on for nearly a year.
Prominent figures ranging from the pope to the musical group Indigo Girls have asked Georgia to grant Davis a new trial. Other supporters include celebrities Susan Sarandon and Harry Belafonte; world leaders such as former President Jimmy Carter and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and former and current U.S. lawmakers Bob Barr, Carol Moseley Braun and John Lewis.
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