Troy Davis will get the hearing that justice demands

I have nothing but sympathy for the family of the late Mark Allen MacPhail, a Savannah police officer who was shot dead in August 1989. His family members deserve justice.

But they will receive it only if the criminal justice system has prosecuted and convicted the man who actually murdered MacPhail. Troy Davis, who sits on death row for the murder,  may be that man. He may not be. And that’s the problem.

Many earlier witnesses have recanted their testimony since the original 1991 trial, so it’s not clear that Davis pulled the trigger. Given the recantations, the U.S. Supreme Court was right to order a lower court to give Davis a new hearing. Yesterday, in a highly unusual ruling, the nation’s highest court ordered a federal judge in Georgia to hear new testimony and decide whether it  “clearly establishes” Davis’ innocence.

That’s a very high hurdle. And, in the absence of virtually indisputable evidence such as DNA (there is none in this case), it’s unlikely that Davis can meet the test.

Still, it’s important that Davis be given the opportunity. The most compelling testimony is likely to come from Tonya Johnson, who did not testify at the original trial. She has since implicated Sylvestor “Redd” Coles, the prosecution’s star witness, who came forward to tell police that Davis had pulled the trigger. But Johnson says she saw Coles, whom she feared, come running from the parking lot where MacPhail was murdered and drop two guns behind a screen door at the vacant apartment next to hers on that August night. He seemed “panicked,” she has said.

In May, 27 former justices, judges and prosecutors filed a legal brief asking the high court to let a federal judge hear Davis’ claims. Their pleas have less to do with saving Davis than with protecting the criminal justice system from error. All Americans need to believe that the justice system is fair and impartial. Giving Davis another opportunity to prove his case helps to preserve the system’s integrity.

20 comments Add your comment

I Report/ Vast White Wing Conspirator :-) You Whine :-(

August 18th, 2009
6:11 pm

And if that don’t work maybe we could say that he is retarded and get another twenty years hearings started?

You know, give that cop’s family a good vivid memory of the injustice that was meted out to him.

san francisco perspective

August 18th, 2009
9:18 pm

if original testimony has been recanted, then surely a new trial by a jury is in order with the requirement that the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. shifting the burden to davis to clearly establish his innocence does not protect the justice system from error or solidify its “integrity.”

Charles Jackson

August 18th, 2009
9:36 pm

Troy Davis gets his day in court. Again.

Troy Davis was convicted 20 years ago of killing a Savannah police officer.

Troy Davis has had multiple court hearings.

Troy Davis has had three stays of execution.

Troy Davis’ Death Penalty Circus continues ad nauseam.

[...] to warrant at least another look at any case, even more so for a capital murder case. Thankfully, that is going to happen, but no thanks to Scalia and [...]

Constructive Feedback

August 19th, 2009
3:56 am

Ms Tucker – Please research the name “Michael Cooper”. Mr Cooper is the man that TROY DAVIS was convicted of shooting that same night, hours before HE KILLED Officer MacPhail.

I notice that one can detect the bias of a source by their inclination to totally depend upon the recantation of the eye-witness testimony at the crime scene where Troy Davis shot MacPhail or if the person is willing to expand the crime scene and make note of the continuity of violent behavior by Troy Davis.

The same gun which shot Michael Cooper outside of the party is the same gun which killed the fallen officer.

Why don’t you also seek to overturn Davis’ conviction for shooting Michael Cooper IF you are so strong in your belief that he is an innocent man?

Mr. Tee

August 19th, 2009
7:33 am

Why not tell the whole story Ms. Tucker? Let me guess, Troy Davis is black. If he were white you would never bring this up.

highly amused

August 19th, 2009
7:45 am

Justice? Another Hearing? I’ll be honest, I don’t know all the details but any new hearing should start with purgery charges against the witnesses. If they falsely testified to convict a man innocent of the charge; they should go to jail. If they are changing their testimony because of some other agenda; they should go to jail. There is absoluteley no excuse for changing any sworn testimony. These witnesses need to be held accountable for what they have done to either Davis or the MacPhail family.


August 19th, 2009
7:52 am

Holy crap!!! Me and Cynthia agree on something! Usually I couldn’t disagree w/ you more…but I think Mr. Davis is innocent.


August 19th, 2009
8:28 am

Great comment CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK! Ms. Tucker is just another racist and doesn’t want to admit that a one of her “brothers” killed that poor cop.

Michael W. Fender

August 19th, 2009
8:58 am

This story is a great example of type of trash that the AJC allows Cynthia Tucker to print, and is also the reason I haven’t subscribed to the paper for years. I only ran across this story while surfing the net, its free! Let’s be real here, if Troy Davis was a white man, ole Cynthia’s column would probably be on why countries should have no borders and illegal immigrants should be able to come and go as they please.


August 19th, 2009
10:28 am

It’s amazing how the few white bloggers here scream ” She only b/c he’s black.” Yet, these same white bloggers , I’m sure” said nothing about the white men (in Paris Texas ) that killed black men by dragging them behind their cars/trucks. Regardless of how you feel about justice , I KNOW for a fact it varies pending upon race, the amount you have and gender.

Algonquin J. Calhoun

August 19th, 2009
10:28 am

Cynthia, I agree with you. I have no problem seeing murderers executed but I do have a problem with innocent people being executed. Make doubly sure you got the right guy BEFORE YOU PUT HIM ON THE GURNEY OF DEATH!!! You know Cynthia, it’s amazing how all the white trash reads your writings but they all hate the AJC because of what you write. My diagnosis-cognitive dissonance. Keep writing and they’ll keep reading, moving their lips as they do.

Wyld Byll Hyltnyr

August 19th, 2009
11:10 am

How said that author Tucker celebrates equally in the protestations of a man, known to have shot one, and linked to the killing of another by ballistic evidence, and the denigration of true American heroes President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Even sadder that the AJC willingly provides a pulpit for her drivel. Perhaps, the reason that the AJC is going out of business – out of touch with morality, common sense, and the majority of Atlantans.

Algonquin J. Calhoun

August 19th, 2009
11:19 am

You meant zeroes, didn’t you?


August 19th, 2009
1:08 pm

Clearly Coles shot the police officer. How the police got it so wrong is beyond me. Coles was pistol whipping a homeless man over a bottle of beer when the the off-duty policeman came to find out what was going on. Why Davis would then shoot the policeman with a gun he didn’t own is beyond me. Coles owned a gun, but the police never recovered. They never found Davis with a gun. As far as Cooper is concerned, Davis and Coles were at the party. Again, Coles gun has never been recovered.

The witnesses that are now recanting were clearly not credible. One person said she saw things she could not possibly have seen. Another signed a statement that he couldn’t read.

Coles had a high paid lawyer, Davis didn’t. There’s your justice folks. This is why the S.Ct. granted a motion in this case they haven’t granted in 80 years.

Rosanne Potter

August 19th, 2009
3:09 pm

It amazes me that the AJC has so many readers, on-line or off, who feel such a strong need to see Troy Davis as the murderer. The lack of ballistic evidence, the fact that Troy never owned a gun {and Coles did (but conveniently can’t or won’t produce it)}, that Troy’s photo was plastered all over Savannah after Coles pointed the finger at him which is why there was a huge man hunt for Troy, the fact that Coles had an expensive lawyer (why did he need one?) and Troy had inadequate legal assistance, all of this (not to mention the recantations by witnesses who were threatened into asserting that they saw Troy shoot the gun) point to his innocence and to the moral repugnance felt by six members of the Supreme Court for executing an innocent man. Thank you for your blog on this case.

Keith George

August 19th, 2009
4:24 pm

Please note that both supreme court justices appointed by Real American Hero (Just like GI JOE, right?) George W. Bush also voted to demand this hearing, if judge Roberts thinks this is called for, I’m inclined to believe him.

People want to believe Troy Davis is the killer because they want to believe that the system works, that innocent people aren’t convicted. The belief is comforting, but we know that it’s false. We really don’t know what happened. We rarely do. I’m tired of seeing prosecutors on “48 Hours Mystery” talking about how “there’s no doubt in my mind” that such and such a person is guilty. That always says more to me about the prosecutor’s mind than about reality. If you have no doubt about the people you’re putting away and putting to death, you’re not making any room for doubt, and you’re neglecting your duty to be a finder of truth in favor of a conviction rate. Cynthia never said that Troy Davis was guilty, only that he might be. Anybody who thinks they know more than that is a damned fool.

This is why there shouldn’t be a death penalty… not because there aren’t people who deserve to die… there sure are! But because human just is simply too fallible to assume God’s prerogative.

Scott Smith

August 19th, 2009
7:30 pm

Another poster noted that there is no justifiable reason defending the recantations of 7 of the 9 key witnesses. How about these? Some of the witnesses were teens who were interrogated for hours without counsel. At least one of the witnesses was illiterate but was coerced into putting his mark on a written statement that he couldn’t even read. Some of these witnesses claimed at the time of the trial that their statements did not reflect what they actually saw and that they were threatened with conviction for perjury if they tried to recant their ’statements’ at the time of the original trial. One of the witnesses claimed then that she was saw Mr. Davis “smirking” at the time of the shooting, even though she was almost a quarter mile away, across four lanes of traffic and behind a line of trees. Still, her testimony that she was somehow able to see a smirk on a dark skinned person’s face standing in a dark parking lot a quarter mile away was acceptable in the trial. She is another ‘witness’ who has recanted.

The tragedy of the policeman’s murder should not be minimized. But justice is only served if the person put to death for the crime actually is the man who pulled the trigger. In this case, there’s at least as much evidence to doubt the justice of Mr. Davis’ sentence as there is that he was not the killer. Which could mean that the actual guilty party gamed the system well enough to still be walking around free while an innocent man has served twenty years on death row.

Constructive Feedback

August 20th, 2009
4:54 am

Muriel and Rosanne Potter:

Did you actually READ the summation as provided by the State Attorney General?

Did you see that the officer RAN PAST COLES to give chase to TROY DAVIS?

If Coles was the guilty man (and no doubt he too has some part in it since they were friends) WHY did the now dead officer focus on Davis instead of Cole as he gave chase?

Why did Davis scamper to Atlanta immediately after he killed MacPhail?

It seems to me that some of you are so set on the man’s INNOCENCE that you fail to note two things:

* The one man who could tell us clearly is now DEAD
* The context of the entire night in Troy Davis’ life (both crime scenes) have to be lies for your version to be true.

Again – Notice how those who are biased in favor of Davis don’t want to talk about the first crime scene.

I wish that the “Anti-Justice Left” were forced to STRINGENTLY prove their counter claim. (ie: Would you support Coles getting executed tomorrow?). As it stands right now you function to spring people out of jail (or death row) while, like an “OJ Simpson Private Eye” – you say that “THE REAL KILLER IS STILL OUT THERE”. You all need to be forced to make a compelling case to support your theory and have it acted upon as a condition of this guy that you favor being released.

I assure you that he is thankful that there are some people that have been duped. He is the one who benefits the most.

(Side note – one of Davis’ redeeming characteristics is that he was the first in his family to obtain a degree. Fast forward to this past Tuesday. Did you see in Atlanta that the guy who cut off his ankle monitor and beat the 1 year old boy and shot his mother ALSO had a pose at a graduation ceremony? This proves nothing about one’s innocence or character)

[...] Troy Davis changed all that. Those more educated than I may his case fairly well (I’m new to it).  Basically, Mr. Davis was convicted in the Georgia state courts of murdering a police officer in the course of a felony.  He was sentenced to death.  Since his conviction, most (all?) witnesses have recanted, and it now appears more likely than not that the prosecution’s star witness actually killed the officer, which has a way of changing things. Mr. Davis ran out of state remedies, but yesterday, the Supreme Court transferred his original writ of habeas corpus to the Southern District of Georgia, with instructions to: Receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner’s innocence. [...]