Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More broken record Troy Davis musings

Troy Davis' case was heard by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday. I have previously written about this case here, here, and here. This case has been a roller coaster of execution dates and stays.

Yesterday's hearing was about Davis' claim of actual innocence. In general, it has been said that actual innocence is not grounds for appeal. From this report, it appears that much of yesterday's court hearing revolved how a defendant would make an actual innocence claim and what his burden of proof on that claim would be.

For many, Mr. Davis' innocence claim is not a strong one because there is no DNA pointing to another perpetrator. There is still at least one eyewitness who maintains that Davis was the shooter (though that eyewitness told police when he was first interviewed that he could not identify the shooter). So, no, Mr. Davis probably can't prove his own innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.

But, you know what? At this point, the state wouldn't be able to prove Mr. Davis' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, either. There is, and has always been, another viable suspect. That suspect, Coles, says Davis is the shooter. Davis says Coles is the shooter. Davis' attorneys have located three other witnesses who say Coles confessed to being the shooter. And 7 other witnesses who testified against Davis have since recanted. So the case is a mess.

If we just look at the evidence against Coles, I am confident that many prosecutors across the country would be more than willing to charge Coles with the murder. And, obviously, once upon a time, a jury heard enough evidence that they were able to find Davis guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the jury that found Davis guilty didn't hear any alleged confessions by Coles or any of those recantations. If tried today, either man would be allowed to present evidence pointing to the other, so I'm not sure the state would be able to obtain a guilty verdict against either man now.

Yet, the state is still probably going to be allowed to kill Troy Davis. Because proof of actual innocence is not grounds for appeal (thank you, former Chief Justice Rehnquist), so surely Mr. Davis' proof that the state wouldn't be able to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt if the case went to trial tomorrow won't be considered grounds for granting him relief from his death sentence.

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