The State of Georgia executed Troy Davis tonight, despite evidence that he is innocent of the killing for which he was sentenced to death and despite a massive campaign by hundreds of thousands of supporters worldwide.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Mr. Davis’s clemency petition early Tuesday, after spending all day Monday in a closed hearing, during which it heard from Mr. Davis’s attorneys and supporters, prosecutors, and the victim’s family. The board (not the governor) has exclusive authority to grant clemency in Georgia.
Seven of the prosecution’s nine key witnesses against Mr. Davis have either recanted or backed off their testimony, and others have come forward giving sworn statements that the State’s main witness confessed to the shooting. The evidence that Mr. Davis was wrongly convicted was so compelling that three jurors who sentenced Mr. Davis to death at his 1991 trial asked the pardons board to stop his execution based on this evidence.
That this evidence was not sufficient to persuade the state or federal courts to grant relief points to fundamental flaws in the death penalty system’s ability to ensure reliable verdicts and correct its mistakes, especially in high-profile, racialized prosecutions. Mr. Davis, who is Black, was sentenced to death in the killing of a white off-duty police officer.
Supporters of Mr. Davis, which include the NAACP, Amnesty International, former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI,
were encouraged by a 2009 United States Supreme Court ruling that permitted Mr. Davis to present evidence of his innocence in court. But after the federal trial judge who presided over the hearing denied relief, the Supreme Court refused to review the case.
More than 600,000 people worldwide signed petitions urging the pardons board to commute Mr. Davis’s sentence, citing concerns that executing a man amid so much uncertainty about his guilt would deeply undermine the public’s confidence in the justice system.