But I couldn't avoid putting this up:
AP) JACKSON, Ga. — Troy Davis, the condemned inmate who convinced hundreds of thousands of people but not the justice system of his innocence, filed an eleventh-hour plea Wednesday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop Georgia authorities from executing him for the murder of an off-duty police officer.One of the things I learned when reading this book is that lawyers on both sides of a case know quite well that eyewitness testimony, which has the reputation for being the most reliable, is actually often the least reliable sort of testimony there is. Eyewitnesses are rarely natural observers just because few human beings are natural observers; instead, eyewitnesses, like most of us, can be suggestible, distracted, swayed into thinking they saw more than they did, or even capable of being convinced that they saw something just because they heard it, or heard about it, or were otherwise near the scene at the time.
His execution had been set to begin at 7 p.m., but Georgia prison officials were still waiting for the high court's decision nearly two hours later. [...]
Though Davis' attorneys say seven of nine key witnesses against him have disputed all or parts of their testimony, state and federal judges have repeatedly ruled against granting him a new trial. As the court losses piled up Wednesday, his offer to take a polygraph test was rejected and the pardons board refused to give him one more hearing. [...]
He was convicted in 1991 of killing MacPhail, who was working as a security guard at the time. MacPhail rushed to the aid of a homeless man who prosecutors said Davis was bashing with a handgun after asking him for a beer. Prosecutors said Davis had a smirk on his face as he shot the officer to death in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah.
No gun was ever found, but prosecutors say shell casings were linked to an earlier shooting for which Davis was convicted.
Witnesses placed Davis at the crime scene and identified him as the shooter, but several of them have recanted their accounts and some jurors have said they've changed their minds about his guilt. Others have claimed a man who was with Davis that night has told people he actually shot the officer.
"Such incredibly flawed eyewitness testimony should never be the basis for an execution," Marsh said. "To execute someone under these circumstances would be unconscionable."
Most of us have seen the video in which viewers are instructed to count the number of times a basketball is passed around--and plenty of us have missed the man in the gorilla suit who shows up during the video. Many of us will be willing to swear that we saw a couple and their children at Mass on a particular Sunday, and be surprised later to learn that only the wife and a few of the children were present, because the husband and the other children were home ill. If you gather a room full of co-workers together and ask one of them to identify all the left-handed people in the room, it's rare that the person selected will be able to do so. Aside from the natural or trained observer, most of us don't focus that closely on what is happening around us.
Here's a test for my Catholic readers: those of you who read New Advent daily, to whom is the site dedicated? I had to look. You can click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to find out.
You would think that trauma would heighten our observational skills, but I think that's only partly true. We will notice some details much more clearly than normal, but other details will escape us altogether. I remember, for instance, having to evacuate a downtown store because a fire alarm was pulled; I remember walking down an escalator which had been stopped on purpose for people to evacuate that way, and trying to see if I could smell smoke (I couldn't). I can't for the life of me remember the name of the store, how old I was at the time, or even (given my family's nomadic habits) what city the store was in!
Mr. Davis may or may not be guilty. But if seven key witnesses have doubts about their testimony, I think that executing him now makes the whole idea of "reasonable doubt" a total mockery, and shows that our justice system is more interested in validating itself than in making sure someone is actually guilty before he is executed.
UPDATE: Davis was executed at 11:08 p.m. Eastern time.