Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bob Herbert On Pending Execution Of Troy Davis "In The Absence Of Proof"

Bob Herbert wrote a characteristically excellent article on the Troy Davis case, "In The Absence of Proof." Davis (left) is on death row despite persistent doubts about his guilt in the murder of a police officer:

Mr. Davis was convicted of shooting a police officer to death in the parking lot of a Burger King in Savannah, Ga., in 1989. The officer, Mark Allen MacPhail, was murdered as he went to the aid of a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped.

...Nine witnesses testified against Mr. Davis at his trial in 1991, but seven of the nine have since changed their stories. One of those seven, Dorothy Ferrell, said she was on parole when she testified and was afraid that she’d be sent back to prison if she didn’t agree to cooperate with the authorities by fingering Mr. Davis.

“I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter,” she said in an affidavit, “even though the truth was that I didn’t know who shot the officer.”

Another witness, Darrell Collins, who was a teenager at the time of the murder, said the police had “scared” him into falsely testifying by threatening to charge him as an accessory to the crime. He said he was told that he would go to prison and might never get out if he refused to help make the case against Mr. Davis.

Davis's lawyers filed a last-chance petition, supported by 27 former judges and prosecutors, asking the Supreme Court to intervene and examine the prisoner's case for innocence. It's clear why, given both the recantations cited above and the doubts regarding evidence:

There was no physical evidence against Mr. Davis, and no murder weapon was ever found. At least three witnesses who testified against him at his trial (and a number of others who were not part of the trial) have since said that a man named Sylvester “Redd” Coles admitted to killing the police officer.

Mr. Coles, who was at the scene, and who, according to witnesses, later ditched a gun of the same caliber as the murder weapon, is one of the two witnesses who have not recanted. The other is a man who initially told investigators that he could not identify the killer. Nearly two years later, at the trial, he testified that the killer was Mr. Davis.

Herbert asks whether our justice system will live up to the concept of justice:

The very idea of executing someone who may in fact be innocent should also violate the nation’s conscience. Mr. Davis is incarcerated. He’s no threat to anyone. Where’s the harm in seeking out the truth and trying to see that justice is really done?

And if the truth can’t be properly sorted out, we should be unwilling to let a human life be taken on mere surmise.

...Officer MacPhail’s murder was a horrendous crime that cries out for justice. Killing Mr. Davis, rather than remedying that tragedy, would only compound it.

The Troy Davis case is a reminder of the ultimate case against the death penalty. Our legal system is run by human beings, prone to error. Inevitably there are unjustifiable convictions, some ending up on death row. The Innocence Project, in fact, uses DNA testing to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. As long as the death penalty exists, we run the risk of state-sponsored killing of the innocent for the crime of another. Troy Davis may be one of those innocents. Are we willing to run that risk? To those who say yes, would they feel the same if a family member were wrongfully convicted?


dudleysharp said...

Troy Davis: Both sides need to be told
Dudley Sharp, contact info below

Anyone interested in justice will demand a fair, thorough look at both sides of this or any case. Here is the side that the pro Troy Davis faction is, intentionally, not presenting.

(1) Davis v Georgia, Georgia Supreme Court, 3/17/08
Full ruling

" . . . the majority finds that 'most of the witnesses to the crime who have allegedly recanted have merely stated that they now do not feel able to identify the shooter.' "One of the affidavits 'might actually be read so as to confirm trial testimony that Davis was the shooter.' "

The murder occurred in 1989.


"After an exhaustive review of all available information regarding the Troy Davis case and after considering all possible reasons for granting clemency, the Board has determined that clemency is not warranted."

"The Board has now spent more than a year studying and considering this case. As a part of its proceedings, the Board gave Davis’ attorneys an opportunity to present every witness they desired to support their allegation that there is doubt as to Davis’ guilt. The Board heard each of these witnesses and questioned them closely. In addition, the Board has studied the voluminous trial transcript, the police investigation report and the initial statements of all witnesses. The Board has also had certain physical evidence retested and Davis interviewed."

(3) A detailed review of the extraordinary consideration that Davis was given for all of his claims,
by Chatham County District Attorney Spencer Lawton

Troy Davis' claims are undermined, revealing the dishonesty of the Davis advocates . Look, particularly, at pages 4-7, which show the reasoned, thoughtful and generous reviews of Davis' claims, as well a how despicable the one sided cynical pro Troy Davis effort is.

(4) Officer Mark Allen MacPhail: The family of murdered Officer MacPhail fully believes that Troy Davis murdered their loved one and that the evidence is supportive of that opinion.

Not simply an emotional and understandable plea for justice, but a detailed factual review of the case.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Jeff Tone said...

Thank you for your detailed comments, Mr. Sharp. I find troubling the observation, "...'most of the witnesses to the crime who have allegedly recanted have merely stated that they now do not feel able to identify the shooter.' "

Seven out of nine have recanted–and if most feel they can't identify the shooter–and some feel they can–isn't that enough to cast doubt on the conviction? Then one adds in the lack of physical evidence against Davis and the identification of another individual as a suspect. How can the state execute an individual when so many questions remain about his supposed guilt?

dudleysharp said...

Based upon your comments and questions, it appears that you did not read the material that I sent.

If you haven't, you need to do so, in order to appreciate the quotes, which came from the judges reviewing the case.

If you read all the material, you know that Davis' defense counsel , during the trial, questioned all of the eyewitnesses, very strongly, on the issue of whether they were coerced or intimidated.

All of the eyewitnesses said that there was no coercion or intimidation, of any kind.

At trial, their identifications were solid, without a hint of coercion or intimidation.

Now, years later, folks are alleging police intimidation.

Although, all prior testimony and indications was that there was no intimidation, let's now, presume that there was police intimidation of eyewitnesses.

For what possible reason would the police intimidate eyewitnesses to identify one suspect over the other?

There is no reason, at all.

Secondly, that intimidation does not carry over to the trial.

The eyewitnesses were interviewed, extensively, by the prosecutors prior to the trial and there was no mention of intimidation or coercion, there, either, just as there was a denial of intimidation or coercion by those same witnesses at trial.

One of the things the appellate judges are looking at is that Davis' attorneys waited, for years, to bring up these "recantations".

First, that strongly indicates that Davis' attorneys didn't give them much credibility, themselves. That is the only reason for the delay.

Secondly, and obviously, we all have to consider that the intimidation and coercion of witnesses can, also, occur, long after a trial and that saving the life of a person on death row, either guilty or innocent, provides motivation to do so.

Most, if not all, of the appellate judges in this case, have been around a long time and certainly, they have seen both credible and non credible recantations and forgetfullness by witnesses from trials, that were many years in the past, as in the Davis case.

I think we all know that to be true.

Regarding the physical evidence. Davis was identified as the one with the gun and the two shootings and the bullets were tied to the same gun, and the two shootings were tied to Davis.The gun wasn't recovered.

Jeff Tone said...

Yes, the eyewitnesses said nothing about intimidation in the past. Does one who is intimidated usually say as much? Look at their circumstances. One said she was on parole and was afraid of being sent back to prison. Another, a teen at the time, said he was afraid of prison.

Are you suggesting that Davis's attorneys are intimidating witnesses? I suppose that's possible--though it seems that the police would have more power to intimidate than a defendant's attorneys. Why would seven out of nine change their minds? That's a pretty high percentage.

And what are we to make of the witnesses against Mr. Coles–and those who tied the weapon to him?

In, three judges dissent as follows

"If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically. ...the collective effect of all of Davis’s new testimony, if it were to be found credible by the trial court in a hearing, would show the probability that a new jury would find reasonable doubt of Davis’s guilt or at least sufficient residual doubt to decline to impose the death penalty."

Admittedly, shows a unanimous decision. Nonetheless, I find the dissent above compelling.

Regardless of what you said about , it did result in a stay of execution.

I can't argue with This is clearly a family in tremendous pain and deserving of sympathy.

The killing of a police officer is a heinous crime. Though I'm against the death penalty–a separate argument–I'd certainly want the killer to get life without parole. But I'd want it to be the actual killer. I'm not saying that Davis should be set free. I am saying that there are too many questions to put him to death. Are you ready to state categorically that all of the questions have been answered?

dudleysharp said...

My point was, the cops had no motive to coerce or intimidate witnesses. There were multiple eyewitnesses to the crimes. Just take their statements and finish the investigation. The cops had no stake in picking one suspect over another.

The motive to, now, coerce and intimidate witnesses is to save the life of a death row inmate, guilty or innocent.

I am aware of the dissent, that's all you see on the anti death penalty sites and pro Davis sites.

That's why I presnted the majority and other opinions, that are not given a showing.

As I said, both sides should be presented. Hardly a radical notion.

All of Davis' evidence, all of it, eyewitnesses and Davis, himself, made a full and complete presentation to the parole board. Nothing was left out that Davis and his attorneys wanted to present.

And what did the parole board do?

Reafrding the parolee, I don't recall that she had violated parole. What was she going to be sent back for?

However, if she lied on the stand, that would not have only been a violation of parole but a new crime, as well.

So, luing at rial would have put her more at risk.

james said...

Mr. Sharp,

I think the point is that doubt remains. If the evidence is as strong as you make it out to be, why not take the time to have a hearing and be sure? I think the central problem with the way the state has dealt with this case is an unwillingness to re-examine possible mistakes. Whether or not Troy is guilty can only be determined when ALL the evidence is evaluated in a court of law, and that has never happened. The new evidence must be heard, otherwise there's simply no way to evaluate its credibility. So far, the only people who have formally evaluated the new evidence are the members of the GA Board of Pardons and Paroles. You held up their ruling as reliable and trustworthy, yet they met in closed sessions with classified notes so no possibility of oversight exists. That is NOT justice. You and they say the evidence remains solid, while many others don't think so; the solution is a hearing. When life is on the line, we HAVE to be sure.

james said...

The motivation to coerce witnesses comes from the belief in Troy's guilt. Sylvester Coles was the first witness to come forward and implicate Troy. If the police were convinced by Coles that Davis was the shooter, then of course they had motivation to ensure his conviction.

Maybe they did and maybe they didn't... but why haven't the accusations of coercion even been investigated? Again, the issue is a failure to address possible mistakes. The state may claim that it was right all along, but how can we be certain without a proper reinvestigation and a legitimate PUBLIC hearing of the new evidence?

dudleysharp said...

to james:

The standard is beyond a reasonable doubt.

I do not make out the evidence to be anything. It is the court's and the parole board which I am citing.

Based upon what I have presented, if you read it all, the state is not unwilling, at all. That is the point. The new evidence has been heard, thoroughly.

I have never heard of a parole board giving that much time, along with all of the evidence that Davis wanted to be presented. All of it. Nothing left out.

An astounding willingness to have everything aired.

And they still denied relief. The courts have fully reviewed all of the information and have denied a hearing, based upon that information.

What you are asking for is that the courts that have already ruled, that they change the way the law is for Troy Davis, as opposed to applying the law the same for all inmates.

Pending may be a ruling for a hearing. You and I don't know.

You don't know cops very well. They distrust, everybody. Just because Cole came in and said Davis did it, doesn't mean they bought a word of it. Very likely they could have just felt that Cole was trying to save his own skin. They had to finish the investigation before filing charges.

Think about it.

Cole says "I was there and Davis did it."

Cops: "Yeah, OK, we won't investigate you." "you couldn't have done it because you ratted on Davis"." "What's Davis first name?" "Troy?" "OK, Davis did it" "Thanks, Cole." "See you at trial".

Right. A capital murder case.