Posted by Brad @ 9:59 am on March 19th 2008

The Foolproof Death Penalty

A lot of death penalty advocates love to bitch about the fact that death row convicts are given ample appeals and their fair share of days in court. I’ve met more people than I care to number who tend to hold that if a person is found guilty and sentenced to death, they ought to just be taken out back and shot, and not hassle us all with all their “technicality” appeals.

Even very rational people hold that one of the justifications for the death penalty is that, with all those appeals, with 10+ years of legal wrangling, that anybody mistakenly found guilty have every chance our legal system can offer to prove their innocence, such that it might be reasonable to assume that if you can’t, in 10+ years logging hundreds of courtroom hours, overturn your conviction, you almost certainly deserve the punishment. We know that to not be true, of course—both because of the dozens of executed who were discovered innocent after the fact, as well as the anecdotal accounts of how they don’t quite get the “crack” legal representation that would probably be necessary to overturn such a hefty conviction. But also simply because there is something of an institutional and psychological bias in overturning any conviction. Stephen Littua at The Liberty Papers brings us one such example:

ATLANTA (AP) The Georgia Supreme Court denied a new trial Monday for a death row inmate convicted of killing a Savannah police officer in 1989, even though several witnesses against him recanted their testimony.

Troy Davis, 39, was a day away from being put to death last July for the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Officer Mark MacPhail when the state Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a stay of execution.

MacPhail was shot twice after he rushed to help a homeless man who had been assaulted.

Davis appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled Monday in a 4-3 decision that a lower court did not err in refusing to grant Davis a new trial.

Writing for the majority, Justice Harold Melton said that the high court considered the core question of whether a jury presented with Davis’ allegedly new testimony would probably find him not guilty or give him a sentence other than death.

“Most of the witnesses to the crime who have allegedly recanted have merely stated that they now do not feel able to identify the shooter,” Melton wrote.

He added that one of the witness affidavits “might actually be read so as to confirm trial testimony that Davis was the shooter.”

“We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict in this case,” Melton wrote…

Davis’ lawyers say seven witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony that they saw Davis shoot the officer, saw him assault the homeless man or heard Davis confess to the slaying.

Three people who did not testify at trial have said in affidavits that another man, Sylvester Coles, confessed to killing the officer after Davis was convicted. After the shooting, Coles identified Davis as the killer.

Three guesses as to the race of Troy Davis.

The first two don’t count.

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