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Troy Davis and wrongful execution

Is the Supreme Court right to order the rehearing of a Georgia death penalty case, or is one fair trial enough?

If Troy Davis is innocent in the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah cop Mark MacPhail, said The New York Times in an editorial, letting Georgia execute him would be “barbaric.” So “we are relieved” that the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to hear new evidence in the case—such as that seven key witnesses have since recanted their testimony. To argue against a rehearing, as Justice Antonin Scalia does in an “extraordinarily cold dissent,” is shocking.

That’s “a bit harsh” on Scalia, said Conor Clarke in The Atlantic. It may sound “terrible” to argue, as Scalia does, that the Supreme Court “has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” But legally, it’s hardly a “crazy view.”

What’s crazy is delaying the execution of this “convicted cop killer,” said the Savannah Morning News in an editorial. If the Supreme Court was moved by Davis’ “new evidence,” namely the “so-called recantations” of witnesses after 20 years of pressure from “the killer’s family” and Al Sharpton, it could have settled the case itself, instead of kicking it back onto the “judicial merry-go-round.”

Officer Mark MacPhail’s family deserves justice, said Cynthia Tucker in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. But justice is best served by letting Davis try to prove he didn’t pull the trigger. He probably won’t succeed—the legal hurdle, that the new evidence “clearly establishes” his innocence, is too high—but to preserve the criminal justice system’s integrity, it’s important Davis be given the chance.

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