(Atlanta) Attorney General Thurbert Baker announced that his office had successfully defended on appeal to the Eleventh Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the denial of federal habeas corpus relief to Troy Anthony Davis, a Savannah native who received the death penalty for fatally shooting Savannah police officer Mark Allen McPhail in 1989. While Davis can move to reconsider the Sept. 26, 2006 order of the 11th Circuit, only that or an appeal to the United States Supreme Court remains before an execution date can be set for Davis in the Superior Court of Chatham County.

Davis’s appeal alleged that his death penalty trial in 1991 was unfair. The Eleventh Circuit rejected Davis' arguments that the prosecution allegedly presented false or coerced testimony; that the district attorney’s office failed to turn over all of the exculpatory evidence at its disposal; in addition, and that Davis' defense attorneys provided ineffective assistance at trial. The federal appeals court agreed with the arguments made by the Attorney General’s office and found that Davis had failed to support these three claims and concluded that Davis had not satisfied “his burden to establish a viable claim that his trial was constitutionally unfair."

Baker, in announcing the appellate victory, stated that he was pleased that the state “was close to seeing justice done in this case. This convicted cop killer has been sentenced to death by a jury of his peers, which is the appropriate punishment for this senseless and heinous crime.”

Once an inmate has been convicted of a capital crime and sentenced to death, the defendant can institute a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence, first to the Georgia Supreme Court and then to the United States Supreme Court. After a direct appeal has been concluded, a death row inmate can then institute habeas corpus proceedings, which are challenges to the constitutionality of the underlying conviction. The first habeas process involves a state habeas challenge, filed in state superior court, with appeals taken to the Georgia Supreme Court and then to the United States Supreme Court. The second habeas process involves a federal habeas challenge, filed in federal district court, with appeals taken to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the United States Supreme Court. After conclusion of the federal habeas process, the trial court, in this case the Chatham County Superior Court, together with the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, would set an execution date for the death row inmate. Yesterday’s decision is the second step in the federal habeas process, and signals that Davis’s challenges to his conviction and sentence are drawing to a close.