Troy Davis: Will the lights go out in Georgia?



In the United States, persons accused of crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But what happens when a person proven guilty  may actually be innocent of the crime in which they are accused? Ask Troy Davis, the 41-year-old Georgia man who has spent the last 19 years on Death Row for the 1989 murder of Mark Allen MacPhail, an off-duty, white police officer, in Savannah. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Georgia rejected Davis’ claims of innocence after a rare evidence hearing that was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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MacPhail, a 27-year-old father of two, was responding to the cries of a homeless man being accosted in a nearby parking lot when he was shot dead. Witnesses implicated Davis as the shooter, and he was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to death. However, the case has meandered through the court system for almost two decades with Davis fighting to prove his innocence.


Davis was convicted largely on the testimony of nine witnesses, seven of whom have recanted their original trial statements, citing pressure by local police to name Davis as officer MacPhail’s killer. One of the two holdouts is Sylvester “Redd” Coles, the man some of Davis’ witnesses maintain is the actual shooter. Some claim Coles confessed to members of the community, while other say they saw him dispose of the .38-calber pistol used to kill MacPhail. The murder weapon has never been recovered.


With mounting support from other federal judges, lawyers, Amnesty International, former President Jimmy Carter, former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and more, the Supreme Court directed a lower court to grant Davis the rarely ordered evidentiary hearing. However, despite the lack of physical evidence and recanted testimony of key witnesses , Judge William T. Moore Jr. upheld Davis’ conviction.


“Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’ new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors,” Moore wrote in his decision. “The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains largely intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value.”


However, the most scathing statement in Judge Moore’s ruling may have been in his response to the Supreme Court’s assertion that executing an innocent man would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment.


“This court concludes that executing an innocent person would violate the Eighth Amendment. However, Mr. Davis is not innocent,” Judge Moore wrote. From this side of the bench, it looks as if the judge might have already made his mind up before he even set foot in the courtroom.


Then Judge Moore, who presided over the Savannah evidentiary hearing in June, seems to say that the new testimony from eyewitnesses is not credible, a notion which would be nothing short of ironic. Their testimony was good enough to put a man to death, but apparently not good enough to spare him from it.


While the senseless murder of a police officer is nothing short of deplorable and heart wrenching, one has to wonder if those in favor of Davis’ execution (which has been halted three times to since 2007) are ignoring possible facts of the case. There was no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, and he was convicted primarily on eyewitness testimony that has been recanted over and over again.


Davis’ next step is another appeal to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. If he fails there, he can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court again. Eventually, the gavel will fall for the last time on the Troy Davis case, however. Hopefully, it will swing down on the side of justice, whatever that may be in this legal and moral quagmire.


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