Troy Davis: Hundreds of Thousands Acting, More Action Needed

troy davis petitions

Amnesty staff and coalition partners deliver 650,000 petition signatures to the Georgia Office of Pardons and Paroles on September 15th.

There are hundreds of solidarity events in the works and hundreds of thousands of petition signatures delivered for Troy Davis.

But while the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles is hearing from the more than half a million of us who support Troy Davis, there is one other person, Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm, who can prevent this execution.

D.A. Chisolm can at any time seek to have the current death warrant withdrawn, and he can, instead of opposing, support Troy Davis’ petition for clemency.  And he should do so without delay.

Send a message to D.A. Chisolm right away.

Days Of Solidarity With Troy Davis

The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles will hold a clemency hearing for Troy Davis on Monday, September 19, two days before he is scheduled to be executed at 7 pm on September 21.  During the days leading up to this hearing we should declare our Solidarity with Troy.  Come to Atlanta for the big September 16 march and rally at Ebeneezer Baptist Church, or organize events in your own community for  that day.  Make the weekend of the 17th-18th a time for reflection or prayer:  for the Davis family, for the MacPhail family, and for justice to prevail.

These should also be days of Action.  Screen the videos, share the Tweets, and get more signatures on the petition.

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Troy Davis Execution Set For Sept. 21

An execution warrant setting Troy Davis’ execution has been signed by a Chatham County judge.  The execution date has now been set for September 21st.

An execution is NOT inevitable.  This merely sets the clemency process in motion.  Before Sept. 21, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles will rule on whether Troy Davis’ sentence should be commuted, or whether the execution should be carried out as scheduled.  Previously, the Board stated that it would not allow an execution unless there was “no doubt” as to guilt.

Amnesty International will call an International Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis once we know a little bit more about the plans of the Parole Board.  Get started – organize for Troy now, and please check back here or at justicefortroy.org for further updates.

Troy Davis was convicted of murder in 1991. Nearly two decades later, Davis remains on death row — even though the case against him has fallen apart. Learn more about Troy’s case.

Georgia Schedules Execution

Georgia has set June 23 as the date for Roy Blankenship’s execution.   Doubts about his guilt persist.  In February, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles did the responsible thing and granted a stay to allow for DNA testing that might exonerate Blankenship or implicate an alternative suspect.

Unfortunately, the available crime scene samples were too small and degraded and the testing was inconclusive.  There is still some evidence that points to another suspect; without quality physical evidence that can be conclusively tested, questions about Roy Blankenship’s guilt will probably never be resolved.

Today, Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich granted clemency to Shawn Hawkins, based on doubts that Hawkins committed the crime for which he was sentenced to die.  While pondering his decision, Kasich told the media that: “We are not going to go forward with an execution where we are not certain.”  This was the right, and common-sense, course of action, as it was right for the Georgia Board to grant Roy Blankenship a stay for DNA tests.  Given the continuing doubts about Blankenship’s guilt, the right course of action now would be to grant clemency and commute his sentence permanently.

Ohio: Angry Lawyering And Doubts About Guilt

Ohio’s Parole Board has voted 7-0 to recommend clemency for Shawn Hawkins due to doubts about his guilt and an angry lawyer that berated his jury.  Ohio Governor John Kasich does not have to follow this recommendation, but he should.  (And you can urge him to do so.)

Hawkins’ conviction rests mainly on the testimony of an eyewitness who has changed his story several times (and was initially a suspect before being granted full immunity).  There was no murder weapon found and Hawkins had several alibi witnesses.

Upset that his client was convicted despite such a weak case, Hawkins’ lawyer lashed out at (and vaguely threatened) the jury during the sentencing phase of the trial.  He warned them (according to the Parole Board’s report) that, if they issued a sentence of death, “what comes around goes around”.  No mitigating evidence was presented, and, not surprisingly, the jury came back quickly with a sentence of death.

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Anthony Graves, Troy Davis and Innocence

Anthony Graves spent 12 years on death row in Texas for a crime he didn't commit.

The story of Anthony Graves illustrates how a particularly heinous crime can lead to an emotional response and a tunnel-visioned investigation, and how the result can be that someone ends up on death row based on nothing more than flimsy physical evidence (later discredited) and dubious witness testimony (later recanted).

Anthony Graves, it turns out, was innocent, and was set free from Texas death row late last year.  CBS’ 48 Hours Mystery did a good job of telling the story this weekend, and you can watch it below.

Troy Davis, who was also sentenced to death despite a lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, and who remains on death row in Georgia despite recantations from most of the witnesses who testified against him, has so far been unable to exonerate himself.

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Troy Davis And Our Unfixable Death Penalty

It has been over four years since Amnesty International released its first report on the case of Troy Davis.  In that span of time, three states – New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois – have abolished the death penalty, and 17 men have been exonerated from our nation’s death rows after their wrongful convictions were overturned.

Yet Troy Davis, whose innocence claim did finally get heard last summer, remains at serious risk of execution.  He was unable to prove his innocence to the standard required by the court, but the state of Georgia has been unable to remove doubts about his guilt.

It is a fact (and not a surprising one) that our criminal justice system is not perfect, and cannot resolve all questions before it, and it is interesting to note that all three governors who have signed abolition bills since 2007 cited this imperfection as a major reason for eliminating capital punishment altogether.

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Court Allows Arizona to Kill Prisoner with Secret Drugs

Secretly trafficking and then openly using unapproved drugs is now A-OK.  That’s the message sent out yesterday by the Arizona Supreme Court, which allowed state officials to conceal their source for sodium thiopental  (we know only that it’s NOT Hospira, the one FDA-approved supplier), and to continue with plans to execute Jeffrey Landrigan on October 26.

It is already well known that the death penalty compromises the integrity of the medical profession.  Doctors, nurses, and EMTs are all bound by an oath to “do no harm” but all are involved, in a variety of ways, in the deliberate killing of prisoners.  Now, it appears that our zeal for capital punishment is undermining the integrity of efforts to control and regulate powerful drugs.

Normally, if you acquired a controlled substance from a non-FDA approved source and announced your intention to use it for a non-FDA approved purpose, you would expect some sort of legal trouble.  But, apparently, as long as that non-FDA approved purpose is putting someone to death, the normal rules don’t apply.  Instead, you get to keep the source of your drug supply a secret, and you get to use those drugs however you want.

As for Jeffrey Landrigan, some DNA testing litigation in his case continues, and there is a clemency hearing on Friday.  Landrigan’s case is sadly typical, in that his trial lawyer failed miserably to present mitigating evidence, and in that no federal appeals court has cared enough to hold a hearing on that issue.  It is a bit unusual in that the judge who sentenced him to death now says she would not have done so, had she been aware of information that lawyer failed to present. 

So while it appears the Arizona officials can kill Jeffrey Landrigan with a drug it got from God knows where, there is still a chance to convince them that they shouldn’t.

Arizona's Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy for Executions

Arizona today admitted that it acquired the execution drug sodium thiopental from a non-FDA approved source, but continues to seek to execute Jeffrey Landrigan on October 26. The state refuses to say how they scored their new stash of the drug, citing a state law guaranteeing secrecy for executioners.  The state also continues to claim that they got the drug lawfully, though this is difficult to reconcile with the admission that it was obtained from a source other than Hospira Inc., its only FDA-sanctioned provider.

There are plenty of other problems with Arizona’s plans to kill Jeffrey Landrigan, including that his trial attorney, who had never handled a death penalty case before, failed to introduce important mitigating evidence.  Since the trial, much of that evidence has come to light, so much in fact that the judge who sentenced him to death now says that she would have “no choice” but to find that the mitigating circumstances were “sufficient to call for leniency”.

But no appeals court has ever held a hearing to examine Mr. Landrigan’s claim of inadequate counsel, and an execution has been scheduled anyway. 

So, to sum up: Don’t Ask about the failures of Jeffrey Landrigan’s lawyer, and Don’t Tell anyone about the secret drug purchases of Arizona’s executioners.

At least for now.  Litigation continues, as does an appeal for clemency.

Thank you Gov. Strickland for not executing Kevin Keith!

Bucking the opinion of his parole board and conventional political wisdom, Ohio’s governor did something very amazing on Thursday, September 2.

Gov. Ted Strickland intervened to prevent the execution of a man convicted of murdering three people, including a child. This was no small act in a very political season. But Strickland did his job. He carefully reviewed the evidence in a terrible murder case. He recognized that the case is plagued by very serious errors in its investigation and that doubts persist about whether Keith even committed the crime at hand.

Join us in thanking Ohio’s governor for commuting Kevin Keith’s death sentence.

It is the function of executive clemency power to be a check on the judicial process because cases can slip through the cracks. And Kevin Keith’s case, not to mention his life, almost slipped right through the cracks of human error and injustice. Case after case, we see that the U.S. justice system is far too comfortable with doubt, bias and error. How could 138 people wait on death row to be executed only for it to be discovered in time that they were wrongfully convicted? What kind of system allows for such a high error rate when human life is on the line?

Gov. Strickland’s act is a bright spot amidst a continuous and macabre calendar of scheduled state killings. Perhaps authorities in all U.S. states will take notice that our death penalty system is so riddled with problems that abolition is the only true failsafe against wrongful executions.

In the meantime, we urge authorities examining cases where doubts persist and have not been fully resolved to halt executions lest they be complicit in a grave and irreversible tragedy. Certainly the leadership of Gov. Strickland could be very instructional for Georgia authorities in looking at the Troy Davis case, where courts have reviewed his case, yet serious doubts about guilt still persist.