USA: ‘Where is the justice for me?’: The case of Troy Davis, facing execution in Georgia

February 1, 2007

USA: ‘Where is the justice for me?’: The case of Troy Davis, facing execution in Georgia

In 1995, during the time Troy Davis was in state habeas corpus proceedings, the US Congress voted to eliminate federal funding for the post-conviction defender organizations (PCDOs) which it had established in 1988 to provide legal assistance to indigent death row prisoners. One such PCDO, the Georgia Resource Center, which was representing Troy Davis, had its budget cut by some two thirds and the number of lawyers on its staff cut from eight to two. Their case load was some 80 death row cases.(51) A lawyer working on Troy Davis’ case stated in an affidavit that "I desperately tried to represent Mr Davis during this period, but the lack of adequate resources and the numerous intervening crises made that impossible… We were simply trying to avert total disaster rather than provide any kind of active or effective representation".(52) In his report on the USA in 1998, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions expressed concern that "the absence of PCDOs creates a grave difficulty for defendants at the post-conviction level".(53)

After Judge Nangle denied Troy Davis’ appeal, the case moved to the next level of federal review, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. At oral arguments in front of a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit on 7 September 2005, Judge Rosemary Barkett expressed concern that Troy Davis had not been granted a federal hearing to present the new evidence. She asked, "If these people say, ‘I was coerced by the police,’ how could [Judge Nangle] reject that without a hearing?"(54) Judge Barkett reportedly suggested that without the testimony of the various trial witnesses who had now recanted, the state appeared to have no case.

However, on 26 September 2006, the 11th Circuit panel upheld Judge Nangle’s ruling, finding that "we cannot say that the district court erred in concluding that Davis has not borne his burden to establish a viable claim that his trial was constitutionally unfair". The Schlup gateway remained firmly closed to Troy Davis, and AEDPA-backed finality was a step closer. In December 2006, Troy Davis’ appeal for a rehearing in front of the full 11th Circuit court was rejected. His last hope for judicial intervention in the regular appeals process at that point was the US Supreme Court, which takes only a tiny percentage of the cases brought before it.

Clemency: recognizing the possibility of human error