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September 21, 2011

Latest notable news in the Troy Davis case

This morning, with the scheduled execution of Troy Davis now only hours away, there are new developments in what has become perhaps the highest-profile capital case in a decade.  Here are the headlines reporting the new news:

The polygraph test request is an interesting new wrinkle, but I find curious that Davis and his defense team are only now talking about such a test.  The controversial nature and uncertain outcome of polygraphs results make it usually wise for advocates to avoid polygraphs unless and until they are very confident talking about the test can help their cause.  For that reason, I fully undersatnd why Davis and his defense team would not request such a test in conjunction with his 2010 innocence hearing in federal court.  But, once that proceeding went badly for Davis, and especially once the Georgia Board announced last week that it would give Davis one more shot at making his case for clemency, it seems to me Davis and his defense team should have started talking about a polygraph test rather than wait until after that Board denied clemency yet again.

September 21, 2011 at 08:43 AM | Permalink


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A polygraph? First, we know the guy's a liar. Look at his trial testimony. And, um, why didn't the defense try this months (or years) ago. Speaks volumes. As for the new ballistics--um, same thing.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 21, 2011 8:55:52 AM

I guarantee you that if he were to take and fail a polygraph, it wouldn't change a single mind on the other side. The failure would be ascribed to the stress Davis is facing or what will be claimed to be his deteriorated mental condition after all these years on death row.

The abolitionist side has become impervious to evidence. This case is, to them, more a crusade than anything else. They're too invested in it to stand down now no matter what happens.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 21, 2011 10:15:17 AM


Thankfully after today, assuming the execution does go ahead, just about everyone will forget Davis and move on to the next poor SOB.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 21, 2011 10:29:18 AM

Soronel --

Nailed it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 21, 2011 10:32:37 AM

As an attorney, I agree with the comment made by federalist. I don't think at this point a failed polygraph test would make a difference. There are too many people intent on crusading for his freedom. It is not in human nature to admit that one is wrong and those who are on a crusade will probably argue away any evidence that doesn't support their position.

Posted by: Dana Altman, Esq. | Sep 21, 2011 11:41:30 AM

"The polygraph test request is an interesting new wrinkle, but I find curious that Davis and his defense team are only now talking about such a test."

When Roger Coleman's attorneys told him about the wonderful new technology - forensic DNA - that might show conclusively whether Coleman raped Wanda McCoy, Coleman wasn't interested in having the test done. The reason, we now know, is that Coleman was guilty. Polygraphs are far less reliable than DNA, of course, but the reason for a lack of interest up to now is probably the same.

Soronel writes, "assuming the execution does go ahead, just about everyone will forget Davis and move on to the next poor SOB." Given the cult that developed around Coleman, until improved DNA methods conclusively proved his guilt years later, I very much doubt it.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 21, 2011 11:53:44 AM

Kent --

If Davis were to fail a polygraph, I think this case would disappear down the memory hole the same way Coleman has. The same abolitionists who were storming up and down about the bloodlusting Nazis who executed Coleman were, with one exception that I know about, nowhere to be found when he was scientifically proved guilty. When the abbies are right, you're a Nazi, and when they're wrong, you're still a Nazi, only the proof hasn't come out yet.

It must be quite odd to live in their world.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 21, 2011 12:44:51 PM

"to take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice." Archbishop Desmond Tutu
And if the wrong man is paying for the crime, is it even revenge?

Posted by: peter | Sep 21, 2011 1:04:26 PM

The good Archbishop should stick to religion. In this country, religion does not dictate law.

Why a South African clergyman should be regarded as more authoritative in the disposition of American criminal cases than the US Supreme Court is just one big mystery.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 21, 2011 1:21:38 PM

peter, if it makes you feel any better, Davis is guilty of felony murder anyway . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Sep 21, 2011 1:30:22 PM


Lots of folks develop these temporary cults, yet within a week of the focus personality being executed they generally move on. Look at the couple illegal alien cases from Texas that have made huge international news for example. I get the general impression that the focus on such offenders is usually quite wide but very shallow, it gets swept away by the next thing to come along. A dead man doesn't help the abolitionist cause nearly as much as a live one facing execution.

There are of course exceptions, Willingham out of Texas comes to mind. One thing there, regardless of whether he was guilty the case demonstrates an absolute need on the part of Texas to greatly improve its training systems, evidence collection and presentation efforts, and possibly make major policy choices about how to review entire groups of cases where science testified to turns out to not be nearly as reliable as once thought. I do think GFB is right on the money when he says it would have been far better if the forensic science commission had chosen cases without the taint of an execution to examine those issues.

I just don't see that kind of lasting impact stemming from Davis.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 21, 2011 2:27:20 PM

The people arguing for clemency are on a cult-like crusade?

The facts of this case are so overwhelming, the injustice is so jaw-dropping, that we feel compelled to do something about it. We are trying to keep someone from being killed by people who are on a crusade to kill him regardless of the facial facts.

Let's see: 7 of 9 prosecution witnesses recant, the actual killer repeatedly confesses, the ballistics motive evidence is conclusively undermined... Sure sounds like an irrational crusade and a cult to me.

When you guys lose on the facts, you build a straw man.

Posted by: James | Sep 21, 2011 3:19:36 PM

Based on the comments here, there are obviously crusaders on both sides. Some crusade for life, some for death. Neither side appears to be very rational.

Posted by: mls | Sep 21, 2011 3:58:52 PM

ATLANTA, GEORGIA-This morning, six retired corrections officials, including Dr. Allen Ault, retired Director of the Georgia Department of Corrections and former Warden of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison where he oversaw executions for the state, have sent the following letter to Georgia Corrections Officials and Governor Nathan Deal asking them to urge the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider the decision they made on Tuesday, September 20, 2011 to deny Troy Davis Clemency despite concerns about his guilt. Davis is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, September 21 at 7:00pm at Georgia Diagnostics & Classifications Prison in Jackson, Georgia.

We write to you as former wardens and corrections officials who have had direct involvement in executions. Like few others in this country, we understand that you have a job to do in carrying out the lawful orders of the judiciary. We also understand, from our own personal experiences, the awful lifelong repercussions that come from participating in the execution of prisoners. While most of the prisoners whose executions we participated in accepted responsibility for the crimes for which they were punished, some of us have also executed prisoners who maintained their innocence until the end. It is those cases that are most haunting to an executioner.

We write to you today with the overwhelming concern that an innocent person could be executed in Georgia tonight. We know the legal process has exhausted itself in the case of Troy Anthony Davis, and yet, doubt about his guilt remains. This very fact will have an irreversible and damaging impact on your staff. Many people of significant standing share these concerns, including, notably, William Sessions, Director of the FBI under President Ronald Reagan.

Living with the nightmares is something that we know from experience. No one has the right to ask a public servant to take on a lifelong sentence of nagging doubt, and for some of us, shame and guilt. Should our justice system be causing so much harm to so many people when there is an alternative?

We urge you to ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider their decision. Should that fail, we urge you to unburden yourselves and your staff from the pain of participating in such a questionable execution to the extent possible by allowing any personnel so inclined to opt-out of activities related to the execution of Troy Anthony Davis. Further, we urge you to provide appropriate counseling to personnel who do choose to perform their job functions related to the execution. If we may be of assistance to you moving forward, please do not hesitate to call upon any of us.

Respectfully and collegially,

Allen Ault – Retired Warden, Georgia Diagnostic & Classifications Prison
Terry Collins – Retired Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
Ron McAndrew – Retired Warden, Florida State Prison
Dennis O’Neill - Retired Warden, Florida State Prison
Reginald Wilkinson – Retired Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
Jeanne Woodford – Retired Warden, San Quentin State Prison

Posted by: peter | Sep 21, 2011 4:25:16 PM

The comments set forth above by the pro-death penalty crowd give me the creeps.

The State of Georgia is getting ready to kill a person.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Sep 21, 2011 5:22:39 PM

Why defense counsel--because people are willing to defend the death penalty?

Posted by: federalist | Sep 21, 2011 5:30:40 PM

Candle vigil by over 200 AmnestyUK supporters outside the US Embassy in London.

Posted by: peter | Sep 21, 2011 5:44:40 PM

Barry Sheck is reported as saying on Hardball that the Georgia Board of Parole decision to deny Troy clemency was 3 to 2.

Posted by: peter | Sep 21, 2011 5:53:50 PM

I for one would like to thank Bill Otis for (1) chastising all those who carelessly characterize death penalty advocates as "nazis," while at the same time (2) clarifying that those who protest Troy Davis' execution are on a "crusade." Bill's interpretive charity and uncrusader-like temperament always inspire.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Sep 21, 2011 8:22:19 PM

Someone above said religion doesn't dictate the law. Yet, our law is founded on religion. Look at how the Pharisees used the law and compare that to how the law is currently used in our society. I think you will find its very similar.

Let's say your right and it isn't dicated by religion. Then what is it based on? Lately, to me, it seems to be based on revenge. With all the death panalty cases in the news lately I've read about two different cases where the families of the victims were opposed to the executions. These families have found peace without the need to seed to the men who killed their loved ones die. In the Davis case, the family wants the execution to proceed, thinking it will bring them some peace. I suspect it won't. Peace comes through forgiveness, not revenge. Of course, forgiveness and redemption are also religious concepts, I guess.

Posted by: ME | Sep 21, 2011 8:29:04 PM

Michael Drake --

So you think it's OK to characterize DP advocates as Nazis?

Yes or no.

And as to the crusading character of the opposition to the Davis execution, read James's and peter's post and tell me in all seriousness that it's NOT a crusade.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 22, 2011 12:11:39 AM

Calif. Capital Defense Counsel --

"The comments set forth above by the pro-death penalty crowd give me the creeps."

Sounds like a personal problem.

P.S. Does the entire SCOTUS give you the creeps too? The decision to deny the stay was without dissent. Does Kagan give you the creeps? Sotomayor? Ginsburg? Do tell.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 22, 2011 12:15:44 AM

No—and that's the predicate of my point.

As for the "crusading character" of posters here: the first seven slots in this comment thread (on a "liberal" blog) are all occupied by shout-outs from the pro-death penalty chorus—three of them yours. Pot, meet kettle.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Sep 22, 2011 12:28:43 AM

Michael Drake --

If as you correctly say it's not OK for abolitionists to call DP supporters Nazis, then why take a crack at me when I object to their doing exactly that?

As to the crusade, I'd be perfectly willing to swear in court that peter and James, not to mention many, many others, are on a crusade about Troy Davis. I don't think you really doubt that.

I am on a "crusade" in a very different sense -- a crusade to invite people to look at ALL the evidence, not just the little shards the pro-Davis crowd refers to. One might say that my entire career was devoted to getting people (judges) to look at all the evidence, and it's a career I'm happy to continue, albeit in an uncompensated form.

Is there some reason to look at LESS than all the evidence?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 22, 2011 1:00:20 PM

Hi Bill,

Allen Ault (in the letter posted in this thread by Peter) is my dean. I just watched a segment he did on MSNBC's "The Ded Show" where he did nothing but commit one logical fallacy after another. His favorite line was, "As a professor and a dean I have seen all the studies and the DP does not deter." I would love to see you down here to debate the old clown. :-)

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 22, 2011 2:19:41 PM

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