A few months ago, in late September of 2011, the Georgia criminal justice system shocked the world when it executed a self-proclaimed innocent man by the name of Troy Davis. Troy was able to capture the attention of civil rights groups, human rights activists, and innocence projects around the world with his story, but in the end all the media support would not budge the Governor of Georgia or the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution. Despite Troy’s passing, his strength of character has been an example to many, including a fellow inmate at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Wiley Dobbs.
Over the past three decades, Wilburn Wiley Dobbs has been serving time on death row in Georgia, and became close to Troy, who acted as a father figure to Wiley. In 1974, Wiley was convicted of murdering a convenience store clerk amidst an armed robbery gone wrong. Wiley grew up in a rough neighborhood in Atlanta, with an absent father and a mother who often ran a brothel infested with drugs and alcohol out of their home. As a result, Wiley often found himself on the streets at a young age struggling to survive. Though crime should not ever be the answer, it would not be surprising for a young teenager in Wiley’s circumstances to feel that robbing a store might be his only chance to continue to survive.
To this day, Wiley insists that he was not at the scene of the crime when the murder occurred, but he feels that given Troy’s experience, fighting for innocence in Georgia is a lost cause. In 1987 however, Wiley received a break in his case when the Supreme Court ruled that he was entitled to a re-sentencing hearing to reconsider his death sentence. At his initial sentencing trial, Wiley’s attorney failed to provide effective assistance of counsel. His attorney never once pled for his life to be spared, failed to present any character witnesses on Wiley’s behalf, and even suggested that should the jury impose the death penalty, the State would never follow through with such a sentence. Clearly, these acts and omissions fell short of the standards opined by the Supreme Court interpreting the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.
The odds however, continue to fall against Wiley’s favor. The Court ordered that Wiley is entitled to a re-sentencing hearing, but fifteen years have passed and he has yet to see a courtroom. Wiley has been through approximately twenty attorneys, and none of them have seemed to be able to get the case back into the courtroom. The system has chosen to shuffle the case to the end of the line, turning a blind eye to justice. For reasons unspoken, the Georgia criminal justice system has decided that despite an order from the Supreme Court, it is acceptable to keep a man waiting in prison for almost two decades while he wonders as each day passes whether he will live or die. Political beliefs aside, the legal profession should be setting higher standards for itself. A man is sitting on death row without any sentence whatsoever. Wiley deserves an answer, and we all deserve a system with more integrity.
For more information about Wilburn Wiley Dobbs' story, check out my newly-created blog: http://lettersfromwiley.wordpress.com/.
Ali EachoJunior Blog Editor, Criminal Law Brief