Saturday, July 14, 2007

Anatomy of Murder - Southern Style

It seems that former Gov. Mary Sue Terry's adage that innocence is "irrelevant" will hold true to form in Jackson, Georgia in three short days when the state executes an innocent man.

At 7:00 p.m., on Tuesday, the state of Georgia is scheduled to shackle Troy Anthony Davis to a padded metal gurney and inject his veins with the deadly cocktail of sodium thiopental (to knock him out), pancuronium/tubocurarine (to freeze the muscle movements except his heart) and finally, potassium chloride (to stop his heart).

If all goes "well," Mr. Davis will get to meet his maker within minutes. If not, oh dear, give him another cocktail and let him take a "bathroom break."

Yet another sad tale of an innocent man about to be executed because the rusty wheels of justice in the South failed to protect him from the looming abyss. And a story remarkably similar to the heart-stirring account of Sterling Spann as recently told by MSNBC.

In the case of Mr. Spann, intrepid counsel, a dogged childhood friend and the weight of evidence against Spann's guilt ultimately convinced the South Carolina Supreme Court to vacate the verdict and order a new trial.

But thanks to the Federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, there may be no happy episode on TV-land where Mr. Davis gets to thank his supporters for saving his lflesh and ride out into the sunset of life.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Davis received effective counsel; and the fact that no physical evidence (like a gun or DNA) linked Davis to the crime and that eyewitness recollections used to convict were subsequently recanted remain immaterial; the fickle fate of injustice moves right along.

Citing that law, attorneys for the state contend Davis' new evidence cannot be considered because he didn't present it years ago when his appeal was in the state courts. A federal judge in Savannah has agreed, saying Davis failed to offer the evidence during the time frame allowed under the 1996 law.

That law has put Davis in a seemingly unwinnable situation. His lawyers say five of the six witnesses did not recant their testimony until after his state appeals had been exhausted. By then, it was too late under the new rules for the court to consider the recantations. The lawyers say a lack of funding made it impossible to track these key witnesses down any sooner.

Prosecution effectively argued that defense lawyers "had more than enough time to turn up new witnesses." And a spokesperson for the state attorney's office recently reminded reporters that all claims were litigated. Russ Willard asserts that "Davis' lawyers 'had the opportunity to explore this and chose not to."

Of course, the state doesn't like to mention the pesky fact that Congress failed to fund money for counsel for death row inmates in 1996; and the defense team for Davis and 79 other death row inmates was reduced to two lawyers, an investigator and an administrative assistant.

At the time, the defense asked the state to continue the 1996 evidenciary hearing, especially after the lead attorney quit and took another job after the cutbacks. The state opposed the motion, won and last month, the U.S Supreme Court refused to hear defense appeals of new evidence and inadequate defense.

All that now stands between Davis and the needle is the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wisely observes that "124 death row inmates have been released from state prisons after evidence proved their innocence."

Police, prosecutors, judges, witnesses and juries make mistakes, but those mistakes can never be reversed once a death sentence is carried out."
Chairman Garland R. Hunt who was appointed by Gov. George Ervin "Sonny" Perdue III in 2004 leads the five-member panel. It is the only jurisdiction with authority in Georgia law to commute a death sentence.

Before his appointment to the Board, Hunt served as past president for the Network of Politically Active Christians. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from Howard University and is African-American.

Hunt's deep roots in the faith and adult education at a black university in the nation's capital will hopefully bear the fruit of justice in the woeful matter of Mr. Davis.

There's just one possible roadblock -- or break. Mr. Hunt's political consideration in light of his political aspiration.

Just this month, Hunt proudly threw his hat into ring and announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination to the state House in District 37. The current officeholder is Terry Johnson, a moderate Democrat who last year won by the tiniest of margins: a mere 67 votes.

Update: The Associated Press via the Washington Post reports that a Georgia superior court judge refused to halt the scheduled execution of Davis and order a new trial. Attorneys for the defense are appealing the judge's decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.

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