Why Has It Taken a Decade For AL Death Penalty Trial?

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Kharon Davis was 22 when he was charged with capital murder and jailed in Alabama. Ten years later, he is still there, awaiting a trial that began Monday. He has had two judges, four teams of lawyers and nine trial dates, the first of which was in 2008. His case has outlasted a district attorney who served for nearly three decades. It defies any understanding of the right to a speedy trial, says the New York Times. As the case has languished, Davis, whose only prior offense was driving without a license, has been segregated from the jail’s general population for various transgressions. His mother, Chrycynthia Davis, has been allowed to visit him just once in the last three years. Davis has already served half of the minimum sentence for murder.

The case illustrates how the justice system can founder at many levels, especially for poor defendants. It exposes the loopholes in the constitutional protections that are supposed to ensure that both the victims and the accused receive timely justice. In capital murder cases, it is not unusual to spend two or three years behind bars awaiting trial. A decade is extreme. Davis’s case has suffered from misplaced evidence, conflicts of interest, and restrictions on his ability to review his own legal documents. His lawyers and prosecutors share the blame for the delay, as does Davis himself. At a hearing last year, he insisted on replacing his second team of court-appointed lawyers, saying he did not trust them, even though the judge warned that doing so would further delay his trial. “It is impossible to look at it,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University, “and not find it deeply, deeply troubling.” Davis maintains he is innocent and has declined offers of a plea deal.

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