Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, made the following comments today following introduction of HR 3986, the "Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act.":
"We are grateful to Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. for his leadership in addressing the serious issues that can prevent death row inmates from establishing a strong claim of innocence. When a person facing execution has strong evidence of his innocence, he should have ample opportunity to bring those claims back into a court of law. The law as it stands today is flawed in this respect. Rep. Johnson's bill would ensure that death row inmates have the opportunity to present newly discovered evidence of innocence.
Given that 139 people have been wrongfully convicted and sent to death row in the last three decades in the United States, it is especially important that lawmakers take a close look at the flaws in a system that irreversibly takes human life. Amnesty International believes the death penalty should be abolished; this would be the best way to ensure that innocent people are not executed. But we hope that lawmakers on various sides of the debate can find common ground on the issue of innocence. "
Georgia prisoner Troy Davis, who faced execution three times despite having strong claims of innocence, faced a difficult legal battle in presenting his innocence claims due to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which limited his ability to appeal his case in federal courts. This bill would help prisoners with similar cases.
Davis, who has always maintained his innocence, has been on death row since 1991. Last year, he came within two hours of execution, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in August that he should be allowed a new hearing to establish his innocence.
Davis was convicted in 1991 of killing police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia, in 1989. No murder weapon was produced at trial, nor any physical e vidence linking Davis to the crime. Seven of nine witnesses against him later recanted or changed their initial testimonies in sworn affidavits.