Will Georgia Execute An Innocent Man?

September 16, 2011

DeathWatch does not often weigh in on executions taking place outside of North Carolina, but Georgia’s Troy Davis presents a special situation.

Winston-Salem attorney Mark Rabil describes the case:

It took a jury in Savannah, Ga., only a few hours to convict Troy Davis of the 1989 shooting of police Officer Mark McPhail, and only a few more hours to sentence Davis to death. The case against Davis was based solely upon the testimony of so-called eyewitnesses; no physical evidence exists. Alarmingly, seven of those nine have since recanted their original testimony, stating that they were wrong or lied about Troy Davis’ guilt in the face of intense coercion by law enforcement. Davis has always maintained his innocence. The police focused on Troy Davis because their first suspect, Redd Coles, told them Davis was the killer. Five new witnesses say that Coles was the one who shot McPhail. Witnesses saw Coles harassing a homeless man, shoot the police officer who tried to intervene, and then hide the gun. Coles himself admitted to fighting with the homeless man but fingered Troy Davis as the shooter of McPhail.

You can learn more about Troy Davis here and here.  If you are so inclined, you can sign this petition seeking clemency for Mr. Davis.  His execution is scheduled for September 21st.

For those who are not sure Mr. Davis is innocent but are also unsure of his guilt, know that clemency means Mr. Davis will not go free – he will be re-sentenced to life in prison.  There should not be death where there is doubt.

Fundraiser for Ed Chapman

February 18, 2011

In 2008, Glen Edward Chapman was exonerated and released from death row after spending 15 years behind bars for two murders he did not commit.  He has yet to be compensated by the State of North Carolina.

On March 31st, the Grey Eagle in Asheville is hosting the third annual Freedom Ball in Mr. Chapman’s honor.  Performers will include singer-songwriter David LaMotte, the surf/psychobilly band The Krektones, and reggae/dub act Kinjah.

You can buy tickets online here.  Even if you can’t attend, please consider purchasing a few tickets as a donation.

Faulty Forensic Evidence in Cases of Three NC Executed

August 18, 2010

A report released today by two former FBI agents, commissioned to review North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation laboratory in the wake of the Greg Taylor exoneration, finds that the convictions of three people executed in North Carolina were based in part on forensic reports and testimony that were, to be kind, misleading.  The report is available online here.

The executed persons identified in the report are Desmond Carter (report confirmed the presence of blood on an item when the test was in fact negative), John Rose (report stated that there were chemical indications for the presence of blood and no further tests were done when in fact further tests were done and were negative), and Timothy Keel (report stated that blood test was inconclusive when in fact subsequent tests were negative).

The report also identified four current death row inmates whose cases involved similar errors by the SBI, as well as five potentially innocent people who died in prison before this information came to light.

The report is focused on one test performed by one division of the lab between 1987 and 2003, and only looked into cases in which certain language, identified as misleading in the Taylor case, was repeated in the lab’s report.  Still, the survey identified 269 defendants who were charged based on faulty evidence.

Imagine how many more potentially innocent persons could be identified through a more comprehensive review.

Possibly Innocent Death Row Inmate Granted New Trial

June 17, 2009

David Gainey has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1999, facing the ultimate punishment for a crime his brother may well have committed.  Thanks to Judge Gregory Weeks, he will now have a chance to prove his innocence.

Harnett County prosecutor Peter Strickland had evidence that it was Michael Gainey, not David Gainey, who killed Dwayne Winfield McNeill in 1998.  He hid this information from David Gainey’s defense team, and allowed a prosecution witness to testify falsely about whether anyone else had been linked to the crime.  Strickland also concealed evidence that McNeill was seen alive by his grandparents after prosecutors alleged that David Gainey killed him.

David Gainey confessed to killing Dwayne McNeill under pressure from police officers, but David was unable to provide accurate information about the location of the shooting, the time it happened, or the number of times McNeill was shot.  Despite this, David Gainey’s trial attorneys failed to obtain an expert in false confessions.  The murder weapon was never found and there was no physical evidence linking David Gainey to the shooting.

The court’s order is available here.

(For more information on false confessions, click here.  You may think that an innocent person would never confess to a crime they did not commit, but in 25% of cases where the defendant was later fully exonerated by DNA, s/he confessed to police.)

New Trial for Death Row Inmate Johnny Burr

May 6, 2009

A United States Magistrate Judge has recommended that Johnny Burr, who has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1993, receive a new trial.

Burr was convicted of the 1991 murder of four-month-old Susie O’Daniel in Alamance County.  Judge Trevor Sharp has ordered a new trial due to evidence that O’Daniel was not murdered at all; instead she died as the result of an accident in which Burr was not even involved.


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