Georgia Death Penalty Appeals Blocked by Gingrich Death Penalty Law

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of murder and sentenced to die, by a Georgia jury, in 1991. Now, seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted their testimony. The murder weapon was never found, nor has any physical evidence linked Davis to the shooting. Two of jurors who sentenced Davis to death have signed sworn affidavits saying that based on the recanted testimony, he should not be executed.

Time Magazine reports that Davis’ family is battling just to get his appeals heard. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), legislation championed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and signed by President Bill Clinton, in 1996, restricts appeals that can be heard by federal courts. Now, there is serious question whether justice delayed in justice denied.

In Davis’ 2004 petition to the federal district court in Savannah, Davis presented recanted testimony, most of which involves witnesses who say police officers coerced them to wrongly name Davis as the shooter. Davis also included nine affidavits suggesting the real murderer was a former acquaintance who first accused Davis of the crime. Davis’ appeal was rejected by the federal judge, saying the evidence must be presented in state court first. But, it appears the state court won’t hear new evidence in this case.

In 1995, just as the Georgia Resource Center was about to appeal Davis’ sentence, Congress cut its budget by 70 percent. Six of its eight attorneys left, as well as three of its four investigators. The Center’s executive director, Beth Wells, said all they could do for Davis was try to “avert total disaster rather than provide any kind of active or effective representation. . . .There were numerous witnesses that we knew should have been interviewed, but lacked the resources to do so.”

Georgia officials insist Davis’ failed 2004 federal court hearing shows he has had his opportunity to present new evidence. Georgia has created a Catch-22 that could cost an innocent man his life.

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