Troy Davis Decision: No Decision

June 29, 2009

Today, on its last day of work before summer vacation, the U.S. Supreme Court postponed its review of Troy Anthony Davis’ case until September.  As Amnesty International has repeatedly pointed out, Davis was sentenced to death for the 1989 shooting of a police officer in Savannah in the absence of any physical evidence against him and based solely on the testimony of 9 witnesses.  Since the trial, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their statements or have changed them.  Moreover, nine affidavits exist that implicate one of the remaining two witnesses in the murder.   Doubts about the fairness of the verdict have arisen even among the jurors in Troy’s case who, eighteen years ago, unanimously sentenced Davis to death.

The Court’s decision (or non-decision) comes amidst a groundswell of local activism in Savannah, where citizens are demanding that the new District Attorney, Larry Chisolm, reopen the case due to the major doubts about Troy Davis’ responsibility for the crime. Today’s non-decision is also significant, in that it may show that at least some Supreme Court Justices are concerned about whether strong claims of innocence are getting adequate review in our lower courts.

In September, the U.S. Supreme Court could reject Troy’s petition.  Or they could agree to hold a hearing on Troy’s case or remand it to the federal District Court for a new hearing.  This would allow the new evidence available in this case to finally be examined in open court and would signify that fairness, at least in this case, is a priority over “finality”—something immensely important in the case of the death penalty, where mistakes, arbitrariness and bias are all too common.