First, let me note that the current issue regarding Troy Davis is whether the Board of Pardons and Parole should grant clemency based on its own declared standard: “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.” This is not about guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, whether innocence is proven by clear and convincing evidence or whether Mr. Davis has exhausted all appeals. With that disclaimer, I present Rep. Holcomb’s letter:
Re: Request for Clemency from the Death Penalty for Troy Davis
Dear Members of the Parole Board:
I write to you to request clemency for Troy Davis so that he is not executed by the State of Georgia. I do not make this request lightly.
As a former prosecutor, I have the utmost respect for police officers and I mourn the death of Officer Mark McPhail and pray for his family.
Despite my admiration for the police and empathy for the victims of this crime, I must speak out against the writ of execution that has been issued in this case. As you know, seven of the nine prosecution witnesses have recanted their trial testimony. I find that astonishing and, quite frankly, appalling. These witnesses took an oath to tell the truth and now they say that they did not do so. Undoubtedly, the jury relied in part on the recanted testimonies to find Mr. Davis guilty.
I trust that you are familiar with the landmark decision issued recently by the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Larry Henderson. In this case, the Court issued an order requiring judges to more thoroughly scrutinize police identification procedures and other variables that affect eyewitness identification. These changes are designed to decrease the likelihood of wrongful convictions based on eyewitness accounts, about which the Court noted, “it is widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country.”
The facts developed after Mr. Davis’ trial cast meaningful doubt on the finding of guilt. I cannot square the State’s continued reliance on the recanted evidence used to convict Mr. Davis with the finality of a death sentence. As such, I ask you to grant clemency. I would think we should all desire to avoid having the State of Georgia kill a man who may be innocent.
The American justice system is premised on the principle that it is better for a guilty person to escape than an innocent to suffer. Surely then, it is better for the Parole Board to grant clemency and spare death rather than allow the State of Georgia to kill Troy Davis.