Today, I am updating and republishing much of an article I originally published 2 ½ years ago. Troy Davis has been sitting on Georgia’s death row for over twenty years. Davis was convicted of the shooting death of an off duty police officer, Mark MacPhail. Since his conviction, Davis has been appealing his case. Over the years, most of the so called “eye-witnesses” have recanted their testimony and evidence has surfaced implicating another man as the shooter, Sylvester Coles.
Davis’ attorney appealed their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June, 2011, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. An execution date of September 21, 2011 has now been set. Davis’ family is calling on people to sign a petition to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which will hold a final clemency hearing just days from now.
The following text comes from my pervious article, which lays out the case for reasonable doubt. In order to be convicted of murder, a jury must find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Since the trial, jury members have said had they known what they know now, there is no way Troy Davis would have been convicted of the crime. Judge for yourself:
(Originally published at BrooWaha, May, 2009.)
According to the Attorney General of the State of Georgia, Thurbert E. Baker, on August 19, 1989, at approximately 1:00 a.m., Troy Anthony Davis allegedly shot and killed Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail. At the time, MacPhail had just started his night job as a security guard at the Greyhound Bus Station across from a Burger King. At the restaurant, a fight ensued and Davis struck a homeless man with the back of a .38 special revolver. When Officer MacPhail approached the men fighting with his nightstick, Davis shot the officer twice before fleeing the scene.
At trial, the prosecution presented nine separate witness testimonies connecting Davis to the murder of MacPhail, the assault of the homeless man, and a shooting at a party that occurred a couple of hours earlier. One witness claimed that after Davis first shot the victim he walked up to the officer smiling and shot him one more time. Just to assure MacPhail’s death. In August, 1991, Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of murder and later sentenced to death. Davis maintains his innocence and has been appealing his sentence ever since.
However, before, during, and after the trial, seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimony. Pretty much all the witnesses are now saying the same thing. They claim the police strong-armed them into pointing the finger at Davis. Here is a typical affidavit from one of the seven witnesses, Jeffery Sapp;
“I remember when the officer got shot down at Burger King… The police came and talked to me and put a lot of pressure on me to say, ‘Troy said this’ or ‘Troy said that’. They wanted me to tell them that Troy confessed to me about killing that officer. The thing is, Troy never told me anything about it. I got tired of them harassing me, and they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear. I told them that Troy told me he did it, but it wasn’t true. Troy never said that or anything like it. When it came time for Troy’s trial, the police made it clear to me that I needed to stick to my original statement; that is, what they wanted me to say. I didn’t want to have any more problems with the cops, so I testified against Troy”.
Even the homeless man that was assaulted that evening tells a similar story. Here is an excerpt from him, “They kept asking me what had happened at the bus station, and I kept telling them that I didn’t know. Everything happened so fast down there. I couldn’t honestly remember what anyone looked like or what different people were wearing. Plus, I had been drinking that day, so I just couldn’t tell who did what. The cops didn’t want to hear that and kept pressing me to give them answers. They made it clear that we weren’t leaving until I told them what they wanted to hear. They suggested answers and I would give them what they wanted. They put typed papers in my face and told me to sign them. I did sign them without reading them.”
All seven recanted statements are found in an Amnesty International USA (A.I.) report, Where Is The Justice For Me? The Case of Troy Davis, Facing Execution in Georgia.
According to the report, one of the two remaining witnesses testimony is contradictory. In his initial statement, one of the men claimed he did not see the shooter. However in court, he pointed to Davis as the gunman. The only other witness against Davis is a man named Sylvester “Red” Coles. The day after the murder, Coles and his attorney went to the police and named Davis as the killer. Amnesty International claims that after Coles and his attorney pointed to Davis the police put blinders on went after Troy with the full force of the police department. They were determined to gain a conviction of a cop killer and the first guy fingered received their full attention. Overlooking all other possible suspects. Even though Troy Davis was the local basketball coach and Coles was well known in the community as a scary guy. Additionally, Coles admitted to owning a 38. caliber pistol, but claimed he lost the gun earlier that night.
Since the brutal murder of officer MacPhail, nine people have come forward and implicated Coles in the crime. Again, from the A.I. report, here is an example of the testimony that has surfaced. Testimony that was not heard by the jury which sentenced Davis to death. This is from a sworn affidavit given by Tonya Johnson, who lived near the Burger King:
“Sylvester Coles — we all called him Red — and a guy named Terry coming down the street from the Burger King. When I saw Red and Terry they were both in a panic and very nervous. Red and Terry each had a gun with them at that time. Red asked me to hold the guns for him, which I refused to do. Red then took both guns next door to an empty house and put them inside the screen door and shut the door… I have known Red all of my life. He used to live next door to me… For most of my life I have been scared to death of him. In fact, he threatened me after this happened. He told me that he wanted to make sure that I did not tell the police about the guns he hid in the screen door that morning. This is why I did not testify about the guns at Troy’s trial because I was afraid of what Red would do to me if I did. I have not told anyone about this until now because I was still scared… But I have decided that I must tell the truth.”
Death Penalty Information Center reports that since 1973, 133 men on death row were found to be innocent. The latest acquittal came this week. Daniel Wade Moore was sentenced to death for the murder and sexual assault of Karen Tipton in 2002. Fortunately for Moore, he was able to prove to the appeals court that the prosecution withheld crucial evidence that exonerated him. Unfortunately for Davis, he was unaware of or unable to get the recanted witness testimony and the statements that actually implicates Cole, at the time of the trial. And once Davis lost his appeal in the state court, the federal appeals process can do little to introduce the recantations and additional statements. In April of this year(2009), the federal court rejected Davis’ final appeal.
Clemency from Georgia’s governor or the Board of Pardons and Parole is now Troy Davis’ only hope. Nonetheless, Davis’ list of supporters has grown long. Most notably the Pope, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, members of congress including John Lewis, Jessie Jackson Jr. and Shelia Jackson Lee and Senator Carol Moseley- Braun. Additionally, a host of religious and human rights organizations have all called for Davis’ appeals to be heard.
Troy Davis’ sister Martina has been a tireless advocate for her brother. Her website collects letters of support for Troy and shows videos of rallies and actions she has held around the world on her brother’s behalf. You can sign the family’s petition at this site:
Here is a quick link to Troy’s petition: Sign this petition now!
–Photo from troyanthonydavis.org’s website.