In a significant move the Supreme Court today ordered a new hearing in the case of African American death row inmate Troy Davis accused of killing Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989. Davis’s case has been the focus of a national campaign by the NAACP, the National Action Network and other civil rights organizations. The court’s action in granting a writ of habeas corpus was the first such judgment since 1925.
The majority decision, with only two dissenting voices from right-wing justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, mandated a federal judge in Georgia to “receive testimony and findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis’s] innocence.”
Several witnesses who originally accused Davis have since recanted their testimony. The case has elicited wide interest and support including from the likes of Bob Barr and former FBI head William Sessions.
Today’s ruling comes in the wake of an April 16, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denial of a new hearing. The Circuit Court then ruled, ‘Davis has not presented us with a showing of innocence so compelling that we would be obligated to act today.’ After the Circuit Court ruling the NAACP began an “I am Troy” campaign. In Georgia the local movement presented over 60,000 petitions to the Savannah DA’s office demanding justice.
Earlier in the summer, NAACP leader Benjamin Jealous called on the Supreme Court and the local district attorney, Larry Chisholm, to do everything in their power to see justice was done.
In writing for the majority Justice Stevens said, “The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing,’
The Supreme Court decision was not expected until September.