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Troy Davis makes 'unprecedented' bid for clemency. Will it save his life?

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With such a preponderance of new evidence, the Davis case is challenging evolving views on whether those who have been sentenced to death in US courts are guilty or innocent. At the forefront is the chasm that exists between the legal power of an initial conviction – when the burden of proof is on the prosecution and reasonable doubt is sufficient for acquittal – and the subsequent doubts raised from new evidence introduced during a convict's journey to the execution chamber.

“Davis has had to show by clear and convincing evidence that he's innocent,” says Russell Covey, a law professor at Georgia State University, in Atlanta, “which is very different from having to raise a reasonable doubt about his guilt.”

While courts in the appeals process focus on a convicted person having to prove their innocence, the Georgia parole board does have more latitude when considering "executive clemency." In allowing a 90-day stay of execution for Davis in 2007, the board wrote that it would “not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.”

Davis was convicted in 1991 for shooting Officer MacPhail after the officer responded to pleas for help from a homeless person near a Burger King where he worked off-duty as a security guard. MacPhail, who left behind an infant child, never had a chance to draw his gun as Davis, the jury found, shot him in the chest.

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