USA: Less than "ironclad," less than safe

August 27, 2010

USA: Less than "ironclad," less than safe


USA: Less than ‘ironclad’, less than safe

Federal court ruling may clear way for Georgia to set new execution date for Troy Davis

27 August 2010


AI Index: AMR 51/077/2010

[W]hile the State’s case may not be ironclad, most reasonable jurors would again vote to convict Mr Davis of Officer MacPhail’s murder. A federal court simply cannot interpose itself and set aside the jury verdict in this case absent a truly persuasive showing of innocence

- Judge William T. Moore Jr., US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, 24 August 2010



If a state’s case against a condemned prisoner is not “ironclad”, should not that fact trouble those pursuing his execution? This is a question that should be asked of the authorities in Georgia, USA, following a federal judge’s ruling that, if upheld, will clear the way for the state to kill Troy Davis in its execution chamber.

US District Court Judge William Moore answered a different question in his ruling issued on 24 August 2010. He addressed not whether the state could demonstrate a watertight case against Troy Davis, but whether Troy Davis could show “by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in the light of the new evidence” that has emerged since his 1991 trial for the murder in 1989 of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail.

Under this “extraordinarily high” standard, Judge Moore wrote, “Mr Davis is not innocent”.

Elsewhere in his ruling, Judge Moore displays less certainty in the state’s case than this bare conclusion would otherwise suggest. He acknowledges that the new evidence presented by Troy Davis casts “some additional” doubt on his conviction, albeit not enough to justify reversal of the jury’s verdict. And in the final footnote to his 174-page ruling, he writes that while the state’s case against Troy Davis may not be “ironclad”, his own review of the evidence had led him to conclude that “most reasonable jurors” would vote to convict Troy Davis. Evidently, he believes that there is doubt enough for somereasonable jurors to vote to acquit Troy Davis on the current evidence.

The State of Georgia had urged Judge Moore to place an “extraordinarily high” burden of proof upon Troy Davis. In electing to do so, the Judge explained that choosing a standard that was not only this burdensome, but also “crafted from the perspective of a reasonable juror”, “comports with the high level of respect society has for jury verdicts rendered subsequent to an uncorrupted process, while acknowledging that even the best efforts of society may occasionally yield results that later prove clearly incorrect”.