Death Row Inmate's Rare Chance to Prove His Innocence
By Benjamin Todd Jealous
June 22, 2010 Special to CNN
officer and sentenced to death Benjamin Todd Jealous: 7 of 9
eyewitnesses have recanted or changed their testimony. He says
Supreme Court granted
evidence in court. He says
hearing before a judge.
Editor's note: Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP.
(CNN) -- On Wednesday the saga of death row inmate
Anthony Davis will begin its last chapter. In an extremely
rare ruling last summer, the
ordered a federal judge in
evidentiary hearing to prove his innocence.
The ruling is unusual in that the Supreme Court has not
granted this writ of habeas corpus in more than 50 years.
Their decision is a strong indication that they are concerned
about the constitutionality of executing the innocent -- as am I.
Although much work still must be done in our justice system
to ensure the innocent do not pay the price of the guilty,
the granting of this evidentiary hearing is a major step for
sitting on death row; Troy
tell his side of the story and new evidence will be
considered in this nearly 20-year-old case.
The hearing will allow the testimony of witnesses who have
recanted or contradicted their original eyewitness
testimonies to be heard and examined in a court of law. At
long last, the courts will hear critical testimony that they
were prevented from hearing in the original trial.
Troy's journey to death row began in the summer of 1989, when
he was arrested in connection with the killing of an off-duty
police officer outside a Burger King restaurant in
death for a crime many believe he did not commit.
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Davis almost a year ago,
and I was convinced of his innocence. My sense of his
innocence is impressionistic, but a close examination of the
case indicates there was no physical evidence that tied him
to the crime, no weapon was ever recovered and seven of the
nine eyewitnesses have recanted or changed their original
testimony in sworn affidavits, citing alleged police coercion.
One of the witnesses, a teenager, said the police threatened
to hold him as an accessory to murder, warning that he would
"go to jail for a long time" and would be lucky to ever get
out because a police officer had been killed.
Since that trial, several members of the jury have delivered
sworn statements to the court, indicating that their decision
was based on incomplete and unreliable evidence. Given the
murky timeline of the events in the dead of night,
eyewitnesses who changed their stories, the pressure placed
convict a "cop killer," and the alleged coercion of
witnesses, it is easy to understand why some jurors have
admitted their uncertainty.
For nearly twenty years, Mr. Davis's life has hung in the
balance. Despite the prevalence of evidence and thousands of
people rallying to save him from execution, including the
NAACP, Amnesty International, former President Jimmy Carter,
actor/activist Danny Glover, former FBI director William
Sessions and conservative Congressman Bob Barr, the courts
stubbornly refused to hear
It is the unjust reality of the death penalty that in our
nation that there are more than 3,300 people withering on our
nation's death rows, men and women who are almost universally
poor, disproportionately African-American and in some cases
innocent. Since 1973, according to the Death Penalty
row with evidence of their innocence. Executing an innocent
person is a mistake that cannot be rectified.
We still have a long way to go before
life off death row. The standard of proof in the evidentiary
hearing turns our criminal justice system on its head. Mr.
the state to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This
is especially challenging given that the crime happened more
than 20 years ago and there is no physical evidence, such as DNA.
in decades and on June 23, 2010, I will join leaders from
NAACP, Amnesty International and other faith and community
outcome at the hearing. We continue to work tirelessly on
killer of Officer Mark Allen MacPhail to justice and to bring
closure to both families.
Whatever the outcome of the hearing, we will be in the
trenches, knocking on doors and holding prayer vigils in the
prevails for Troy
caught in the painful web of injustice.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of
Benjamin Todd Jealous.