Because the mind is a tricky thing, beholden to more special interests than a Republican Senator. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution elaborates why the case of Troy Davis is particularly tragic. The advent of DNA forensics have saved the lives of hundreds who would have otherwise been condemned to death or imprisonment:

In a furious effort to save their client from execution, lawyers for convicted cop killer Troy Anthony Davis are hinging much of their case on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony.

Racial bias, poor lighting, stress, alcohol, the passage of time, poorly conducted police lineups and other factors often play a role in misidentifications of criminal suspects.

More than 75 percent of the 205 people exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence in the United States — including all six in Georgia — were imprisoned because of mistaken eyewitness identification.

Imagine how many black men have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit because of the testimony of an eyewitness whose sub-conscious racial bias influenced their memory. In the Troy Davis case, there is no murder weapon, and no physical evidence, and thus no way to exonerate him. It is ironic that the flimsiness of the state’s case, is both the reason he is in jail and an impediment to his freedom.

Seven of nine witnesses who helped implicate Davis for the murder have since recanted their testimony, so such analysis might prove valuable. Davis’ lawyers seek to raise questions of how authorities may have steered some to point the finger at their client.

“The eyewitness testimony formed the central theme of the government’s entire case,” Danielle Garten, one of Davis’ lawyers, said last week. “There was no weapon found, there was no physical evidence. The case relied on eyewitness testimony.”

Which can be terribly unreliable, regardless of the personal certainty of the eyewitness. And in this case, 7 of the 9 have recanted, and one of the two remaining may be McPhail’s killer.

The state assembly of Georgia is scheduled to have hearings on eyewitness testimony, given that six men have been exonerated by DNA evidence after having previously been convicted based on eyewitnesses.

Concerns over faulty eyewitness identification have reached the state Capitol. Earlier this year, state Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) — on the heels of the exoneration of a man imprisoned 21 years for a wrongful rape conviction — tried to pass legislation that would bring uniformity and higher standards to the way law enforcement officials conduct live and photo lineups.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson said he liked the idea, but it was opposed by prosecutors and did not pass.

But Benfield managed to push for a House study committee on eyewitness identification procedures, and Richardson recently appointed her to chair it.


This fall, the committee is scheduled to hold a series of hearings on eyewitness identification. Barry Scheck, a DNA expert who gained fame as part of O.J. Simpson’s legal defense team, has been invited to testify.

Prosecutors, defense lawyers, law enforcement, eyewitness ID experts and exonerees are also expected to participate.

The Georgia Innocence Project, which has played a role in three of the state’s exonerations, is promoting lineup standards.

“In all six of those [Georgia] cases, the victims, and sometimes witnesses as well, incorrectly identified the attackers,” said Lisa George, spokeswoman for the project. “It’s not that these victims or witnesses were lying; it’s just that they got it wrong. Human memory is extremely fallible.”

Human memory is the only thing the state used to convict Troy Davis, and since, most of the witnesses have said they remember things differently. Troy Davis should not die, or even spend the rest of his life in prison because of mistaken identity or police coercion.

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