The Troy Davis case has prompted America to once again debate the merits of the death penalty. Following Davis's execution last night in Georgia, we're pondering a different question: Would a Supreme Court stay of execution have yielded a different outcome or merely delayed Davis's death?
Davis was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1989 shooting of an off-duty police officer. For over 20 years, Davis appealed his conviction, claiming that he was innocent. He had a number of high-profile supporters, ranging from Pope Benedict XVI to Big Boi and Diddy, who fought his execution.
Davis’s wrongful conviction appeal reached the Supreme Court the first time in 2009. In reviewing the case, Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, noted that Georgia faced “a substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death.” The Supreme Court ordered a federal judge to evaluate Davis’s claim that he did not commit the crime - the first time in almost 50 years that the Court had made such as order.
At trial, the prosecution presented nine eyewitnesses who testified against Davis; seven have since recanted, reports The Daily Beast. Nonetheless, District Judge William Moore, who reviewed the facts in Davis’s case following the Supreme Court’s order, found that Davis was “not innocent,” and Georgia proceeded toward execution.
Davis’s attorneys tried appealing Judge Moore’s “not innocent” decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Eleventh Circuit responded that it did not have authority to review the case because the Supreme Court had sent it directly to Judge Moore. When Davis appealed a second time to the Supreme Court, this time asking the Court to direct the Eleventh Circuit to review Judge Moore’s decision, The Nine dismissed the appeal without a reason.
On Wednesday, hours before Davis was executed, his lawyers filed another plea with the High Court, this time requesting a Supreme Court stay of execution, and promising that Davis would “shortly” present a writ detailing substantial constitutional errors in the case. The Supreme Court declined to stay the execution, and according to CBS News, Davis was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m.
We don’t know if Davis was guilty or innocent. After his 1989 conviction, Davis convinced thousands of people that he was innocent; he even persuaded the Supreme Court that there was enough evidence in his favor to justify further examination of the record. But if the Supreme Court had granted another stay of execution in the Troy Davis case, would the outcome have changed?
The Court had previously declined to remand the case to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals; presumably, a new appeal based on constitutional errors would have been directed to the district court, where Davis failed to convince Judge Moore of his innocence. Judge Moore, however, has left the bench; would his successor have reached a different conclusion in the case?
- Troy Davis Clemency Denied: What is Clemency? (FindLaw’s Blotter)
- Troy Davis Case: Attorneys To Issue Late Appeal Before Georgia Execution (Huffington Post)
- Post-conviction and clemency representation (FindLaw’s Library)
- Inmate who Claims Innocence Gets Supreme Court Stay of Execution (ABA Journal)