After Third Stay of Execution, Could Troy Davis Win a New Trial?

ATLANTA, Georgia, Oct 27 (IPS) -- A federal appeals court in Atlanta has stayed the execution of Georgia death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis scheduled for Monday -- the third time he has been pulled back from the death chamber in just over a year.

Davis had fulfilled the requirements required for "a provisional stay of execution," the court ruled on Friday. The stay gives time for Davis's lawyers to apply for a new appeal.

Two days earlier, Davis's lawyers had argued that Davis was innocent and his execution would be a violation of the 8th and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Davis, who was set to die on Monday, Oct. 27 for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail, had appeared to have exhausted all his legal avenues to prevent his execution.

On Oct. 14, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not take up his appeal, three weeks after granting him a stay of execution just two hours before a scheduled execution.

Since Davis's 1991 conviction, seven of the nine eyewitnesses called by the prosecution have changed or recanted their testimonies in sworn affidavits.

Attorneys for Davis have argued that these recantations, coupled with the fact that the prosecution never produced a murder weapon or physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, left too much doubt to carry out an execution.

Davis has gone through a grueling series of appeals, trying desperately to get any court to hear new evidence and possibly grant a new hearing or trial.

"It's a first step toward what we've been asking for a decade, which is getting our evidence heard before a judge," Jason Ewart, lead attorney for Davis, told IPS after the court announcement of the latest stay of execution.

Davis's attorneys have 15 days to file their legal arguments justifying an appeal. The Georgia attorney general's office will then have 10 days to file a response. The appeals court will then decide whether to grant Davis permission to pursue more appeals.

The Davis case represents an overall problem about how eyewitness testimony was collected, rights activists said.

"Faulty eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, accounting for 75 percent of wrongful convictions in over 200 DNA exonerations," Sara Totonchi, chair of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP), told IPS.

"Eyewitness identification is notoriously unreliable, but it was the basis for the conviction against Troy Davis," she added.

Stephanie Benfield, a state lawmaker, attempted earlier this year to introduce legislation that would have significantly overhauled eyewitness identification procedures. But the bill never came up for a vote.

Benfield told IPS she was planning to reintroduce such legislation when the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes in January.

The Davis case also represents the problem of getting new evidence before a court.

"As a result of procedural bars, new evidence of innocence in the Troy Davis case has never been given a fair hearing in a court of law," Totonchi said.

"The witnesses who changed or recanted their testimonies never had their credibility tested and confirmed in a court of law," she continued. "Had Mr. Davis been given a hearing, any doubts about the credibility of the affidavits could have been resolved through meaningful adversarial testing of the new evidence."

Davis's supporters also allege class bias, racial bias, geographical bias, and prosecutorial misconduct, as well as problems with proper legal representation.

"When people who are poor cannot have adequate legal representation … that is an issue," said Laura Moye, deputy director of Amnesty International USA's (AIUSA) southern regional office.

Supporters expressed joy and relief over Friday's decision.

"It's like beyond words," Martina Correia, Davis's sister, told IPS. "It was just amazing. All I could do was think of my brother who has faced death three times. It has to be a traumatic experience. I'm ecstatic and I'm praying that this gives us time."

Amnesty said it is "heartened" by the news.

"Until this point, the compelling issues in this case have been virtually ignored, leaving Georgia vulnerable to the possibility of killing an innocent man," Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA, said in a statement.

Hours before the announcement of the temporary reprieve, supporters turned out in Atlanta in driving rain to participate in a mock funeral procession, marching to the parole board with a casket containing 140,000 petitions asking for clemency for Davis.

The crowd then delivered two letters signed by clergy from across Georgia and around the world to governor Sonny Perdue's office.

Groups like AIUSA and GFADP have helped bring international attention to the case. Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Al Sharpton, and former president Jimmy Carter were among the many prominent people who appealed for clemency.

The European Union issued a statement Oct. 22 denouncing the scheduled execution. Correia told IPS she received a phone call on Friday from the French ambassador expressing support for her brother on behalf of the EU.

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