Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Conference call with Martina Corriea, Jason Ewart, and NAACP President Ben Jealous on the status of the Troy Davis Case

I had the opportunity to sit on a conference call today with NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Jason Ewart (Attorney for Mr. Troy Davis), and Martina Corriea (Sister of Mr. Troy Davis). The call was to provide updates to media, bloggers, and the community about the status Troy Davis' case.

Most of you will remember that Troy Davis is facing the death penalty in Georgia for allegedly killing a police officer -- but since his trial, seven out of nine witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony, the other suspect in the case (Sylvester Coles) is one of the 2 witnesses who have not recanted, 3 witness have signed statements saying that Sylvester Coles has privately admitted to killing Mr. MacPhail, and there has never been any physical evidence that linked Troy to the crime.

During the conference call, it was made clear that while the Supreme Court has intervened in ordering a new hearing for Mr. Davis, the hearing itself is evidentiary and is not be confused with a new trial. "We're not there yet", stated President Jealous. "This is not a new Trial – just a hearing. The State must not retry or reprove his guilt: Troy must prove his innocence."

Jason Ewart, Attorney for Troy Davis, stated that not only have 7 of the 9 witnesses who testified against Troy recanted, but 6 new witnesses have also come forward to speak out on Troy's behalf. He also talked about the 'rush to judgement' in the original trial that led to Mr. Davis' conviction. "Within two days of the shooting, pictures of Troy were on the front page of the newspaper under the headline 'KILLER'", Ewart stated. "There has always been evidence that there was someone else involved – but the police never followed up on it... they had already committed to Troy".

The investigation turned its focus to Troy Davis shortly after the crime took place when Prime suspect, Sylvester Coles, contacted the police and accused Troy of having committed the crime. The Police never investigated any other leads or suspects.

One of the witnesses who originally identified Troy Davis has since stated that during the Police department's invesitigation, she was only shown one picture (one of Troy Davis), and she was told that everyone else had already identified him, so she should too.

"What has happened in this country that we do not acknowledge the execution of innocent people?", asked Martina Corriea (sister of Troy Davis). She said that from the time Troy decided he would turn himself in and answer questions, he has never been interrogated by the police about the murder.

Now finally he will get his chance. This will be Troy Davis' first evidentiary hearing. The rules of this hearing are different from the standard rules for criminal and civil proceedings. You see, in this case there is no presumption of innocence. Quite the contrary; Mr Davis is presumed guilty. He will have to carry the burden of proof and prove his innocence by 'Clear and Convincing' evidence. Even then his fate is not certain.

Troy Davis's case poses a test for the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed in 1996 as a part of the "Contract with America" and then made retroactive to apply to all cases tried since 1986. The AEDPC was intended to streamline Death Penalty cases and to avoid lengthy and costly endless appeals. However, what it has also done is created a legal quandary wherein a person who is able to successfully prove their innocence after a wrongful conviction may still be denied relief and executed unless they can show that their original conviction was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding". In Layman's terms, if the evidence presented at the first trial would have lead a reasonable person to deem you guilty, the the process is considered to have been fair. And even if new evidence later proves you innocent, the Federal Courts are restricted under the act from granting relief. (The AEDPC was noted by Justice Thomas in his dissenting vote against granting Troy Davis an evidentiary hearing)

So there is still plenty of work left to do. The legal team is faced with the complex challenge of first proving Mr. Davis' innocence, then proving the unconstitutionality of a law that would allow for the execution of an innocent man. And the family has asked that we, readers, bloggers, activists, and organizations, keep the heat up. Keep getting the word out, and keep getting the facts out there in the open. Visit, send emails, write letters, but by all means be heard. Because as Martina said, "if we had the power of the internet 10 or 15 years ago, I believe Troy would be a free man”. So let's do what we can Today...

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