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Vol. 74/No. 26      July 12, 2010

Court hears evidence of
Troy Davis’s innocence
(front page)
SAVANNAH, Georgia—Attorneys for death-row prisoner Troy Davis presented evidence of his innocence at a special hearing June 23 and 24.

Davis is a 40-year-old Black man framed up and convicted in 1991 for the 1989 killing of Mark MacPhail, a white cop in Savannah. Davis has maintained his innocence throughout his 19 years on death row. No DNA or other physical evidence linking him to the killing was presented at the trial.

Three times the state has tried to execute Davis. However, through an international campaign to defend him stays were won each time. Last August the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to “make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner’s [Davis’s] innocence.”

The night before the hearing, a meeting here drew nearly 150 people at the New Life Apostolic Temple. Participants, mostly Black, included workers, young people, Davis’s family members, and friends and pastors from area churches. Among the speakers were representatives of Amnesty International and the NAACP.

The courtroom was full on both days of the hearing, with observers from California, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, Washington, Georgia, the United Kingdom, and France.

Davis set a dignified example in the courtroom, sitting in the first row in front of his family. He was surrounded by five prison guards.

Davis’s 1991 conviction was based solely on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses, seven of whom later recanted or changed their testimony. For the first time since the trial, these witnesses appeared in court.

Antoine Williams, who identified Davis as the shooter at the 1991 trial, said that he could not read the statement that he originally signed because he was illiterate. He testified at the hearing that he saw nothing because it was dark and he was ducking down in his car.

Kevin McQueen had testified in 1991 that Davis admitted killing MacPhail while they were in jail. McQueen said there is simply “no truth” to his original testimony. “He never confessed to shooting anyone,” he stated. McQueen also said he ultimately benefited from his testimony, receiving a lighter sentence for a burglary charge in 1989.

Jeffrey Sapp, who said during the 1991 trial that Davis told him he was the shooter, said he first heard about the shooting when the police roped off the neighborhood. He said the police came for him at 2:00 a.m. that night and took him to the station. Sapp was 19 years old. “I was so scared that I told them anything they wanted to hear,” Sapp said in court June 23. “I had an officer in each ear saying, ‘Just say Troy told you. Just say Troy told you.’”

Benjamin Gordon testified for the first time that he saw Sylvester Coles shoot MacPhail. When Beth Burton, the state’s lead attorney, asked Gordon what made him identify Coles for the first time today, he replied, “It’s the truth.”

U.S. District Court Judge William Moore ruled out testimony from a number of witnesses who were going to say that Coles told them that he, not Davis, shot and killed MacPhail. He ruled that it was inadmissible hearsay because the defense had not called Coles to the stand, where he would have had the chance to rebut the testimony. Coles testified against Davis in the 1991 trial.

Davis’s first lawyer, Robert Falligant, said that “contrary to the arrangement I had made with the Savannah Police Department” when Davis agreed to turn himself in, they paraded Davis in through the front door with TV and other media there to film. “They were allowed to come in during Davis’s processing and fingerprinting.”

Only after this publicity were witnesses approached by investigators with a photo lineup that included Davis’s picture but did not include the picture of anyone else who was present at the scene of MacPhail’s shooting.

Moore gave the lawyers for the defense and the state until 5:00 p.m. July 7 to respond to a series of questions. He said that he would then make a ruling without “unreasonable delay.”

During the lunch break June 24, many of Davis’s supporters were prevented from reentering the courtroom until they covered up their “I am Troy Davis” T-shirts or turned them inside out.

Martina Correia, Davis’s sister, told the Militant, “There are so many inconsistencies” in the state’s argument and police testimony. “We will continue this fight until there is a positive outcome.”  
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