SAVANNAH, Ga. -- A Georgia man is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Tuesday for killing a police officer in 1989, even though the case against him has withered in recent years as most of the key witnesses at his trial have recanted and in some cases said they lied under pressure from...
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In late breaking news, Time reported that the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole has granted Davis a 90-day stay of execution. While this is change is a positive step in this case, the fact remains that the death penalty process is seriously flawed in terms of due process.
In 2000, Leibman et al. published the results of their research - two thirds of convictions or death sentences were reversed on appeal between 1973 and 1995. The response to the high failure rate was to enact the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (1996) which has proven to be the death knell ( I did intend the pun) to habeas corpus appeals in capital cases.
Instead of improving the death penalty process, the outcome of passage of this act has been to limit the scope of review of federal courts even further (see Time article). The case of Lionel Herrera (1993) offers some insights into the attitudes of the federal courts. The basic issue is that the federal do not examine the facts of a case and/or claims of actual innocence unless a constitutional violation can be proven.
Claims to the effect that death penalty cases are reviewed extensively are misleading at best. The scope of federal review is very limited. More emphasis is now placed on the trial, the outcome of which is largely dependant upon a competent attorney and adequate resources to mount an effective defense (listen to Episode 7 - Effective Counsel).
Given the state of funding for indigent defendants (a recent Tennessee report suggests that the prosecution receives twice the funding level provided for indigent defense), the lack of effective counsel in many cases, the continued application of a flawed process of guided juror discretion (listen to Episode 8 - Mitigation, Sentencing Instructions, and the Modern Capital Trial), and a host of other factors, and the result is frequently cases like Troy Davis.
While the number of executions, the size of death row, and public support have all declined since 2000, cases such as this one remind us of the need for continued research and the importance of telling the stories of the over 3000 individuals currently awaiting execution.