The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declared in 2007 that it “will not allow an execution to proceed in this state unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.”
And in the Davis case, a significant measure of doubt remained.
The U.S. Supreme Court took the extraordinary step of ordering a lower court to conduct an evidentiary hearing in the case because of the witness recantations and the absence of hard evidence. But in that hearing, the federal judge established a much higher standard of proof than the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. After finding — astonishingly for the first time — that executing an innocent man is unconstitutional, the court then required Davis to prove that he was innocent.
Proving innocence is far more difficult than establishing doubts as to one’s guilt and flips our system of criminal jurisprudence on its head. Instead of the American system’s presumption of innocence and a requirement that the state prove guilt, Davis’ evidentiary hearing began with the court presuming guilt and required the condemned to prove his innocence.
Even though the judge in the evidentiary hearing denied Davis a new trial, he conceded the standard was “extraordinarily high.”
Davis was unable to meet this nearly insurmountable task. But while he fell short of “proving” his innocence, he established doubts as to his guilt, prompting the judge to concede the state’s case against him was “not ironclad.”
I support the death penalty, and have for a long time. And I am not making a judgment as to whether Davis is guilty or innocent. But surely the citizens of Savannah and the state of Georgia want justice served on behalf of MacPhail, the police officer.
Imposing a death sentence on the skimpiest of evidence does not serve the interest of justice. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles did not honor the standards of justice on which all Americans depend by granting clemency. In doing so, it will allow a man to be executed when we cannot be assured of his guilt.
That was the final admirable principle standing between Davis and his scheduled death by lethal injection Wednesday. And the parole board did not uphold it.
In Troy Davis’ last statement before his execution at 11:08 p.m., he told the McPhail family he did not kill their son, and asked them to keep looking for the truth.