High Court Stays Georgia Execution

Troy Anthony Davis, who was scheduled to be killed by lethal injection at 7 pm today, was granted a stay by the U.S. Supreme Court less than two hours before the execution would have taken place:

It was the second time that Davis, whose claims of innocence have attracted international attention, was granted a stay hours before he was to be put to death. In July 2007, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles postponed his execution less than 24 hours before it was to occur.

This time, the stay came from the nation’s highest court.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s justices are scheduled to meet Monday to decide whether to hear Davis’ appeal of a ruling issued by the Georgia Supreme Court in March. In that 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court rejected Davis’ bid for a new trial or a court hearing to present new evidence.

In its order, the U.S. Supreme Court said if the justices decline to hear Davis’ case, “this stay shall terminate automatically.” If the court agrees to hear the case, the stay will remain in force until the high court issues its ultimate ruling, the order said.

Davis has maintained his innocence from the start, but the Georgia Supreme Court refused to reverse the death sentence, despite the fact that seven of the prosecution’s trial witnesses (out of a total of nine) recanted their testimony against Davis:

Since his 1991 trial, seven of nine key prosecution witnesses who testified against Davis have recanted their testimony.

In March, a deeply divided state Supreme Court turned down Davis’ appeal, saying the recantations of seven witnesses who testified against him were not enough to win him a new trial or court hearing.

“We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict,” Justice Harold Melton wrote. The majority, he added, could not ignore the trial testimony, “and, in fact, we favor that original testimony over the new.”

Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears issued a strong dissent.

“If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically,” she wrote.

The new testimony, if found credible, could lead a new jury to find reasonable doubt of Davis’ guilt or enough residual doubt to impose a sentence other than death, she wrote.

Seven witnesses recant their testimony and that might not be enough to create a reasonable doubt for a jury?

Of course, the larger issue is that capital punishment is still permitted in this country at all. As long as it is, we will never be able to call ourselves a truly civilized nation.

2 Responses to “High Court Stays Georgia Execution”

  1. Fifth Amendment guarantees that life, liberty, and property may not be taken with due process of law (the guy’s getting his due process apparently), and the Court has not ruled the capital punishment violates the Eight Amendment.

    We are a nation of laws … it’s certainly a stretch to say we’re “uncivilized.”

  2. Kathy says:

    Well, actually, we are not a nation of laws anymore. We stopped being a nation of laws on September 12, 2001.

    That said, if you read what I wrote more carefully, you will notice that I was not suggesting capital punishment is against the laws of the United States. I said that we will not be a civilized nation until capital punishment is no longer permitted — a state of affairs which can be accomplished through legislation in the states where it is currently legal. You are correct that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the position in relevant cases that capital punishment does not violate the Eighth Amendment, but that really does not speak at all to the question of whether it is civilized, or not civilized. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the U.S. Constitution, but it is not the final arbiter of human standards of civilized behavior. Every modern industrialized nation in the world has abolished the death penalty. In fact, the U.S. stands alone with some of the worst human rights offenders in the world in still having the death penalty.

    That may or may not move or impress you (in fact, I’m sure it does neither), but what is, unarguably, factual is that the U.S. Supreme Court has the power only to decide what is constitutionally lawful in the United States — not what is civilized.

    Just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it’s civilized.

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