Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
According to The Innocence Project, 273 ex-felons in American prisons have been exonerated through the use of DNA testing - including 17 who have served time on death row. In theory, our justice system is based on an assumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, once you have been found guilty, the burden of proof is reversed: You must prove your innocence to a Byzantine bureaucracy before justice is finally served. Of those 273 wrongful convictions, innocent victims of a flawed justice system served an average of 13 years in prison before exoneration and release. Thirteen years! For crimes they did not commit! Attributable to false testimony. Faulty evidence! Police coercion! And/or prosecutorial abuse!
Troy Anthony Davis is scheduled for execution later today. He was convicted in the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail, who was working part-time as a security guard when he intervened between several men having an argument in a parking lot. One of the men, Sylvester Coles, implicated Davis in the killing. No murder weapon was ever found, and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime.
Years later, 7 of the original 9 witnesses who linked Davis to the killing recanted all or part of their stories. New witnesses implicated Coles in the crime. State and federal appeals courts found those recantations unpersuasive and declared that Davis had failed to provide sufficient proof of innocence [my bold].
Among those who petitioned the courts for a new trial or evidentiary hearing: Amnesty International, NAACP, former President Jimmy Carter, Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Desmond Tutu, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, and former FBI Director and Judge William Sessions.
One would think a continuing search for truth and justice should take precedence over a lust for revenge. However, once convicted, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. Yesterday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Troy Anthony Davis a petition of clemency. His execution is scheduled for 7:00 PM today.