[Ppnews] Troy Davis - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 24 14:37:34 EDT 2008

Troy Davis may be innocent


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If Troy Anthony Davis had occupied a higher rung 
on the social ladder, he probably would not have 
been convicted of murder in the August 1989 
shooting death of a Savannah police officer. If 
Davis were a doctor or lawyer or college 
professor, it’s unlikely police would have 
targeted him on the word of a small-time thug.

But Davis isn’t a member of the tony set; he is 
neither educated nor affluent. He grew up in a 
tidy if modest neighborhood with a father who 
worked in law enforcement, but by adulthood, he 
had acquired a petty rap sheet. At the time of 
the tragic murder of police officer Mark Allen 
MacPhail, Davis was working for meager wages and looking for a better job.


So when Sylvestor Nathaniel “Redd” Coles coolly 
walked into a police station hours after the 
murder, accompanied by a lawyer, and identified 
Davis as the shooter, Savannah police had no 
trouble taking his word for it, even though Coles 
had a rap sheet of his own. They set out to 
collect evidence against Davis, and by the time 
the case came to trial, they had nine witnesses, 
including Coles, to testify against him.

Since then, however, seven of those nine 
witnesses have recanted or contradicted their 
testimony, and Davis’s current attorneys now 
believe Coles actually killed MacPhail. Most of 
the recanting witnesses claim that they feared 
the police in 1989 and that they were coerced 
into giving statements implicating Davis. Given 
that a fellow officer had been killed, it hardly 
seems implausible that Savannah police exerted 
pressure to get the testimony needed for a conviction.

Most chilling is the recollection of Tonya 
Johnson, who says she didn’t tell police all she 
knew back then. She now says that she saw a man 
running from the direction of the shooting that 
night, and that she saw him hide two guns behind 
the screen door of an abandoned apartment next 
door. According to Davis’ attorneys, that man was 
Coles. They believe Johnson feared retribution 
from Coles if she had testified to the truth.

Despite the recanted testimony, the state Supreme 
Court refused to grant Davis a new trial earlier 
this year, and, on Monday, the state Board of 
Pardons and Parole reaffirmed its decision to 
deny a petition for clemency. Davis was scheduled 
for execution last night, but the U.S. Supreme 
Court intervened with a last-minute stay.

Americans fed a steady 
of Hollywood-concocted police procedurals and 
crime dramas have come to expect that police will 
always find, if not a smoking gun, at least a few 
damning pieces of forensic evidence. Real life is 
rarely so satisfying. In the Davis case, there 
was precious little physical evidence ­ no DNA, 
no fingerprints, not even the murder weapon.

The jury based its decision on those witnesses, 
who swore Davis was the man who pulled the 
trigger, or that at the very least he had a gun 
that might have been the murder weapon. (The 
killing had occurred at night, in a poorly lit 
parking lot, in the midst of a scuffle. Officer 
MacPhail, working an extra job, had intervened to 
try to break up a fight in a commercial area near 
a Burger King and a Greyhound station.)

Even under the best of circumstances, eyewitness 
testimony is notoriously unreliable. More than 75 
percent of the people exonerated by DNA evidence 
had been falsely convicted by bad eyewitness 
testimony in their original trials.

With no DNA in this case, there is no way to know 
for sure. Despite all his protestations of 
innocence, despite the celebrities who appealed 
for clemency, despite the recent revisions of 
testimony, it’s certainly possible that Davis 
shot a young police officer several times on a 
hot August evening in 1989. It’s certainly 
possible that he finally may get the punishment he justly deserves.

But it seems equally plausible that Davis was 
just in the wrong place at the wrong time, 
fingered by the real criminal and convicted by a 
criminal justice system eager to put a cop-killer behind bars.

If so, the U.S. Supreme Court has just prevented 
the state of Georgia from murdering an innocent man.

­ Cynthia Tucker is the editorial page editor. 
Her column appears Sunday and Wednesday.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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