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Tuesday, September 20, 2011 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Rev. Jesse Jackson on Taxing the Rich, Occupy Wall Street...
2011-09-20

Troy Davis Set To Be Executed on Wednesday After Georgia Pardons Board Denies Clemency

Guests

Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. He met with Troy Davis in June, as well as with a member of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Mary Schmid Mergler, Senior Counsel for the Constitution Project’s Criminal Justice Program. She assembled statements from a former Georgia Supreme Court Justice, congressman, prosecutors, as well as a former Texas governor, who urged the Supreme Court, and now the Georgia pardons board, to halt Davis’ execution and commute his death sentence to life in prison.

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Shortly before our broadcast ended, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles announced it rejected clemency for Troy Anthony Davis. The Board has the sole authority to stay the execution under Georgia state law. Davis is now set to be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. Amnesty International, the NAACP and numerous other groups have called for clemency. Former FBI Director William Sessions is among those calling for a closer examination of whether Davis is guilty, joining a list that includes Pope Benedict XVI, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We speak with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, who has been a vocal supporter of the campaign to spare Davis’s life. We also speak with Mary Schmid Mergler, senior counsel for the Constitution Project’s Criminal Justice Program, who assembled statements from a former Georgia Supreme Court justice, congressman and prosecutors, as well as a former Texas governor, who urged the Supreme Court, and now the Georgia pardons board, to halt Davis’s execution and commute his death sentence to life in prison. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A life-or-death decision is expected today in the high-profile case of Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. His execution is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Wednesday. After a daylong hearing on Monday from supporters and detractors, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles announced it will take more time to consider whether to grant Davis clemency. The board allowed his execution to proceed in 2008 before it was put on hold by the Georgia Court of Appeals. Since then, three new members have joined. The board has the sole authority to stay the execution under Georgia law.

Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there’s no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. Amnesty International, the NAACP and numerous other groups have called for clemency. Former FBI Director William Sessions is among those calling for a closer examination of whether Davis is guilty, joining a list that includes the Pope, former President Jimmy Carter and the Arbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

Supporters of Davis have been holding an around-the-clock vigil outside the Atlanta building where the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles is convening. Protests are also taking place across the United States and around the world. On Twitter, Davis’s supporters have shared news about the case using the hashtag #TooMuchDoubt.

The family of Officer Mark MacPhail, meanwhile, has campaigned for the execution to go ahead as scheduled. On Monday, MacPhail family members joined prosecutors in arguing their case before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.

With the board’s decision coming today, I’m joined now by two guests. Here in New York, Reverend Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a vocal supporter of the campaign to spare Davis’s life, he met with him just a few months ago, as well as a member of the pardons board in June.

And joining me from Washington, D.C., Mary Schmid Mergler, senior counsel for the Constitution Project’s Criminal Justice Program. She has assembled statements from a former Georgia Supreme Court justice, congressman and prosecutors, as well as a former Texas governor, who urged the Supreme Court, and now the Georgia pardons board, to halt Davis’s execution and commute his death sentence to life in prison.

Reverend Jackson, let’s begin with you. Why are you calling for Troy Davis’s life to be spared?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Because there is not only reasonable, but there is substantial doubt. No physical evidence that he did the killing. The family is in great pain, the policeman who was killed, but he should not be used as a trophy to give them false relief. Of those who testified against him, nine have recanted their position, suggesting that they were either under pressure or didn’t have adequate information. With this much abounding doubt, his life should be spared. We will not be safer Wednesday morning if he’s killed the night before.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. Seven of the nine recanted. One of the two who didn’t is the person that others point the finger at, "Redd" Coles, who’s the one that went to the police department that night and said it was at Troy Davis who did the shooting.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: That further makes the case more compelling, because it suggests that the one who went that night is in fact the chief suspect. But in this environment where a kind of bloodthirst is emerging here, where Rick Perry says he presides over 232 executions and gets a standing applause, there is something toxic in the wind. In many ways, America’s character is on trial in this case. And I would hope that the family would know that we who plead for the life of Troy Davis are not insensitive to the loss of their loved one, but they should not accept him as a trophy and then have some sense of false relief.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Schmid Mergler, you have been putting together a list of high-profile supporters calling for Davis’s life to be spared. Talk about some of these people. A number of them are pro-death penalty.

MARY SCHMID MERGLER: That’s correct. We have assembled a group, a death penalty committee that consists of individuals who are both for and against the death penalty. But a number of these individuals have decided to speak out in this case, believing that when it comes to the death penalty, there is no room for doubt. And one example is Judge Sessions, who was a former director of the FBI; Larry Thompson, who was the former deputy attorney general under the George W. Bush administration; Mark White, who was the former governor of Texas and oversaw 19 executions during his governorship.

AMY GOODMAN: And why are they calling for Davis’s life to be spared?

MARY SCHMID MERGLER: I think that the sense among these people is that there is too much doubt, too much doubt in this case. And regardless of whether one believes the death penalty is appropriate in some cases, it certainly is not appropriate in this particular case, with seven of the nine witnesses recanting, and also with the conviction generally resting upon eyewitness testimony. That, in and of itself, is problematic.

AMY GOODMAN: Last—

MARY SCHMID MERGLER: So—

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Amy—

MARY SCHMID MERGLER: Go ahead.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: If you had blood, you know, if you had fingerprints, weapons, you have a case of evidence. Eyewitness is perhaps the weakest form of determining whether someone is guilty or not. And so, the lack of substantial evidence, and his declaration of innocence and the recanting of witnesses, is heavily suggestive.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week on MSNBC PoliticsNation, Reverend Al Sharpton was joined by former Republican Congress Member Bob Barr, who has worked with the Constitution Project to oppose Davis’s execution. Although Barr supports the death penalty, in general, he said it should not be applied in Troy Davis’s case.

BOB BARR: There was no physical evidence. It’s primarily based on eyewitness testimony under very difficult circumstances. It was nighttime. It was dark. It was a poorly lit parking lot. And you add on top of that the fact that these witnesses, many of these witnesses have, not just sort of cavalierly, said that they were not sure or have recanted their testimony, but very, very credibly done. This case, if this execution goes forward, really is a textbook example of the sort of case in which the death penalty should not be applied.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Brenda Forrest, one of the jurors in Troy’s case. She told CNN she initially did not have any doubts that he committed the crime. However, Forrest has since changed her mind.

BRENDA FORREST: If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row. The verdict would be "not guilty."

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Mergler, how have jurors’ reassessments factored into Troy’s case?

MARY SCHMID MERGLER: Well, I think that it’s more evidence of the fact that this conviction is just pervaded with doubt. You know, you have four jurors coming forward saying they have doubts. And that’s because new evidence has arisen since the conviction, since the trial. The jurors were not able to hear these recantations, and they’re now saying, had they heard them, that their decision likely would have been different.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mary Mergler, the role, as Reverend Jackson was talking about, of eyewitness testimony in these cases?

MARY SCHMID MERGLER: Well, what we know is that of the three-fourths of the 273 DNA exonerations that have taken place to date in this country, three-fourths of them have involved and been partly—the conviction has been partly based upon eyewitness testimony. So, we know that jurors put a lot of credibility in that testimony, and yet it is very often mistaken. Even eyewitnesses who testify in good faith are very often mistaken.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Amy, it’s also fair to say that in these cases, withheld information, often by prosecutors, politics and race are also factors in this matter. And I would hope that the five commissioners, who may be listening to us, they will take the case, don’t be as Pontius Pilate was, and you can’t find evidence the man is guilty, but just wash your hand and let a man die. And then, you cannot recover a man who’s dead after you made a mistake. Don’t risk the mistake. This is not just reasonable doubt; this is substantial doubt.

AMY GOODMAN: You met with the head of the Georgia board?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Met with the Georgia board to make a moral appeal to him. He would not say his vote, for obvious reasons. But at least the board is considering. But three of the board members who are there now were not a part of this 20 years ago, so I would hope that the politics or the climate will not be a factor when they’re making a final decision.

AMY GOODMAN: Does it have to be unanimous?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: I think it’s three-two. And right now it seems to be two-three against Davis.

AMY GOODMAN: And you met with Troy Davis himself?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Met with Troy Davis, talked with him at length. He’s so reasonable, so sound, so sane. Such detail in his information, and so—and walked into great detail who he was, who he was not, and who he thinks the suspects are. But none of the kind of evidence that we are now—as the witnesses suggest, as the jurors suggest, none of the kind of evidence that we hear now was heard by that jury when they made this decision 20 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder of Rainbow/PUSH, Mary Schmid Mergler, senior counsel for the Constitution Project’s Criminal Justice Program.

MARY SCHMID MERGLER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, I’d like to ask Reverend Jackson, on another issue, about President Obama’s Rose Garden address yesterday, about the millionaires’ tax and the fact that one in six Americans now live in poverty. Though that, we’ll then be talking about the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy ending today, and we’re going to look at a judicial decision yesterday around Chevron’s pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. Stay with us.

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