Davis deserves benefit of doubt

Published 12:13 am Thursday, September 22, 2011

It’s not a question of whether capital punishment is right or wrong. We leave that debate for another day.

It’s a question of whether Troy Anthony Davis deserves to be put to death for the 1989 slaying of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah police officer who was shot to death after coming to the aid of a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped in a parking lot.

Despite a lack of any physical evidence, including the murder weapon, Davis was convicted of the crime in 1991 based primarily on the testimony of nine witnesses. Seven of those witnesses have since recanted their testimony. One told ABC News that police coerced her into blaming Davis and that she believed the real killer was one of the other witnesses.

Another told the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles that she overheard Slyvester “Redd” Coles admit to being the gunman after a night of drinking. Coles was the first witness to implicate Davis, telling the jury that he left the scene before the shots were fired.

This case has drawn international attention. The state of Georgia has received over 600,000 letters in defense of Davis. Former president Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr and one-time FBI Director William Sessions have all joined the chorus on Davis’ behalf.

“We have confirmed that the administration of law is more important than the search for justice,” said Georgia Rep. John Lewis, calling it a “sad day” for Georgia.

The cornerstone of our justice system is the belief that people are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of Georgia v. Davis, evidence would indicate that there is significant reasonable doubt of his guilt. For that, he deserves a different fate.

Eyewitness testimony alone should not be the standard to end a man’s life in the name of justice.