Beyond reasonable doubt? Really? No DNA, no blood, no murder weapon, no ballistics, in fact no physical evidence of any kind beyond cartridges and fired bullets of the same calibre as a handgun Davis admitted having on him earlier that day, and .38 is a very widely used calibre – literally millions of .38 guns exist. And of the nine eyewitnesses seven have signed affidavits recanting their testimonies, among claims that some were pressured into their statements by police and that others were illiterate and didn’t know what they were signing. The eighth eyewitness simply refuses to speak, and the last, the one who stands by what he told the court, is felt by some (Davis’ defence team, for instance) to have been the real killer all along. In fact nine people have come forward with evidence implicating this man. If so it would not be the first time in the US that someone has ended up on Death Row for a murder they didn’t commit, all thanks to the eyewitness testimony of those were actually guilty of the crime.
Spencer Lawton, the retired prosecutor in the case, told CNN: “There is the legal case, the case in court, and the public relations case. We have consistently won the case as it has been presented in court. We have consistently lost the case as it has been presented in the public realm, on TV and elsewhere.”
Maybe that’s because with no physical evidence and questionably eyewitness testimony many people can’t figure out why you’ve won in court. In the original trial when you had all those eyewitnesses, fair enough, but there’s a huge question mark over that evidence now. There’s no statute of limitations on murder, yet Davis’ team was told it was too late to consider these things now. It’s too late to take a polygraph test as well. At the same time he’s told that he can’t have a retrial ‘on the grounds that he had failed to “prove his innocence”‘. Well, hey, of course he’s failed to prove his innocence, of course the prosecution won in court. You’ll always fail to prove your innocence and the prosecution will always win if courts simply decide not to look at contradictory evidence.
What worries me is that even a prison sentence is supposed to be handed down only when the case is proven beyond reasonable doubt – better that ten guilty men go free than an innocent is deprived of liberty, and all that – and surely even more so if a death sentence is on the cards. In Troy Davis’ case is there enough to be sure beyond reasonable doubt that he should have been in prison, much less put to death?
The answer is necessarily subjective. Those involved in the prosecution think so, but they are advocates for an adversarial legal system and I’d be disappointed if they didn’t. It’s their job. The MacPhails, the family of the off duty officer who was murdered think so, but twenty years ago they were promised closure and it’s been a long wait – I can’t honestly say for sure that in the same position I’d want to believe anything else myself. But objectively it seems as if there is effectively no reliable evidence anymore, and even at the point where he’d have been certain that he was about to be killed anyway and owning up to the murder couldn’t do him any more harm, Troy Davis maintained his innocence. Maybe he was lying to the very end, maybe not – who really knows? And that’s kind of the point.
Oh well, men have hanged with less against them than that.