1 Cite as: 557
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
No. 08–1443. Decided August 17, 2009
JUSTICE SCALIA, with whom JUSTICE THOMAS joins,dissenting.
Today this Court takes the extraordinary step—one nottaken in nearly 50 years—of instructing a district court toadjudicate a state prisoner’s petition for an original writ of habeas corpus. The Court proceeds down this path even though every judicial and executive body that has examined petitioner’s stale claim of innocence has been unpersuaded, and (to make matters worst) even though it would be impossible for the District Court to grant any relief. Far from demonstrating, as this Court’s Rule 20.4(a) requires, “exceptional circumstances” that “warrant the exercise of the Court’s discretionary powers,” petitioner’s claim is a sure loser. Transferring his petition to the District Court is a confusing exercise that can serve nopurpose except to delay the State’s execution of its lawful criminal judgment. I respectfully dissent.
Published on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 by TruthDig.com
Sitting on death row in
The order read, in part, "The District Court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence." Behind the order lay a stunning array of recantations from those who originally testified as eyewitnesses to the murder of off-duty
On the night of the murder, MacPhail was off duty, working as a security guard at a Burger King. A homeless man was being beaten in the parking lot. The altercation drew Davis and others to the scene, along with MacPhail. MacPhail intervened, and was shot fatally with a .38-caliber gun. Later, Coles arrived at the police station, accompanied by a lawyer, and identified
Jeffrey Sapp is typical of those in the case who recanted their eyewitness testimony. He said in an affidavit:
"The police ... put a lot of pressure on me to say ‘
Despite the seven recantations,
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing." Yet conservative Justice Antonin Scalia dissented (with Justice Clarence Thomas), writing that Davis' case "is a sure loser," and "[t]his Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually' innocent."
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2009 Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now! ," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 700 stations in
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs