Anthony Graves, Troy Davis and Innocence

April 25, 2011

Anthony Graves spent 12 years on death row in Texas for a crime he didn't commit.

The story of Anthony Graves illustrates how a particularly heinous crime can lead to an emotional response and a tunnel-visioned investigation, and how the result can be that someone ends up on death row based on nothing more than flimsy physical evidence (later discredited) and dubious witness testimony (later recanted).

Anthony Graves, it turns out, was innocent, and was set free from Texas death row late last year.  CBS’ 48 Hours Mystery did a good job of telling the story this weekend, and you can watch it below.

Troy Davis, who was also sentenced to death despite a lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, and who remains on death row in Georgia despite recantations from most of the witnesses who testified against him, has so far been unable to exonerate himself.

Troy Davis is on death row in Georgia despite serious claims of innocence.

One of the major differences between the two cases is that Graves convinced a federal court that his constitutional rights were violated, and so he got a new trial.  This new trial came with a presumption of innocence.  Graves’ case was then given to a new prosecutor who reviewed it, declared Graves to be an innocent man, and dropped the charges against him instead of bothering with another trial.

Troy Davis has not gotten a new trial – the Georgia Supreme Court denied his extraordinary motion for a new trial by a 4-3 vote in 2008.  Without a presumption of innocence, Troy Davis has been left to try to prove his innocence while still being presumed guilty.

Yet who is to say that, under different circumstances, with different courts and judges hearing their cases, it might have been Troy Davis who was set free and Anthony Graves still facing a date with the executioner?

As both the Graves and Davis case demonstrate, our courts are far from perfect.  This is why executive clemency is so important.  As doubts about Troy Davis’ guilt continue to remain unresolved by the courts, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles must step in and ensure that, at least, he is not executed.