Innocence based on definitions

Death-row inmate awaits the decision

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SAVANNAH, Ga. --- As a federal judge considers whether a Georgia death row inmate succeeded in proving his innocence at a rare court hearing, attorneys on both sides filed arguments Wednesday on how high the burden of proof should be.

Troy Anthony Davis: Convicted of killing an officer in 1991, received a rare chance to prove his innocence last month.   Associated Press
Associated Press
Troy Anthony Davis: Convicted of killing an officer in 1991, received a rare chance to prove his innocence last month.

When the U.S. Supreme Court last year granted Troy Anthony Davis a hearing to prove his innocence, it said his lawyers must "clearly establish" that Davis was wrongly convicted of killing Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989.

U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. asked attorneys for their written responses to what that means after hearing testimony on Davis' innocence claim two weeks ago in Savannah.

In court documents, Davis' lawyers said the judge should conclude "no reasonable juror" would convict Davis after hearing witnesses recant their testimony from his 1991 trial and new witnesses point to another man as the killer.

"In light of these new facts, a reasonable juror would be left with nothing but doubt" about Davis' guilt, attorney Jason Ewart wrote. "When, as here, reasonable doubt is 'clear' this Court must utilize every available avenue to prevent the State of Georgia from executing an innocent man."

State prosecutors argued Davis faces an "extraordinarily high" burden of proof.

Davis failed to meet that standard, they argued, because his innocence claim is based on "unreliable and untrustworthy evidence."

"He maintains no presumption of innocence, but has a presumption of guilt due to his conviction following a jury trial," said the brief filed by Beth Burton and Sue Boleyn, both assistant Georgia attorneys general.

Davis has spent nearly 20 years on Georgia's death row and has been spared from execution three times since 2007, though each of his appeals so far has ultimately been rejected.

The hearing on Davis' innocence claim June 23 and 24 was rare because federal courts typically consider only violations of due process and constitutional rights in death penalty cases.


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