Wrongful imprisonment shouldn’t lead to wrongful punishment

This story exemplifies why we Iowans never want to go back to executing prisoners.

Troy Davis was arrested and convicted for the murder of police officer Mark Allen MacPhail on August 19, 1989 at a Burger King in Savannah, Ga.

His conviction was based not on physical evidence, but entirely on witness testimony. The murder weapon was never found. Nine non-police witnesses testified against Davis, many now stating they were pressured or coerced by police at the time. Seven of these nine witnesses have contradicted or recanted their testimonies. One of the two witnesses who has not recanted or contradicted testimony is the principal alternative suspect; the other witness is sure only of the color of the T-shirt.

Through the appeals process focusing on procedure and technicalities, Davis has managed to survive three scheduled executions. Most recently, on April 16, 2009, the court of the 11th Circuit denied Davis on a vote of 2 to 1 the right to file a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The dissenting judge argued that to execute Troy Davis based on current evidence would be “unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

Davis’ last hope was to file a new habeas corpus petition with the Supreme Court on grounds of “actual innocence.” He was granted an evidentiary hearing August 17, 2009 to be held June 23, 2010 to present all evidence to the state of Georgia and prove his innocence.

Amnesty International maintains that the state of Georgia is violating international safeguards prohibiting any execution not based on “clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts” — United Nations Safeguards guaranteeing the rights of those facing the death penalty, 1984.

This nightmare of a case is a dismal reminder of the denial of constitutional rights by our government and the potential for serious, irrevocable error in our justice system. Indeed, more than 130 innocents have been released from death row since 1973 due to wrongful conviction. There were 10 releases in 2003 alone.

Iowa is among 15 states and the District of Columbia that does not permit capital punishment. We need to keep it that way and work to abolish capital punishment once and for all. Innocence should always trump process.

What can you do for Troy Davis? Show your solidarity. Go to http://www.amnestyusa.org. Click on “I Am Troy Davis”, then “Get the latest updates on the Troy Davis case”, and scroll down to the online petition. Join us.