Why are courts refusing to give Davis a new trial?

  • Follow Metro

ATLANTA --- The stay Troy Davis received less than two hours before his scheduled execution Tuesday leads most people to wonder why it took so long.

After all, seven of nine witnesses who testified against him when he was convicted of the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail have since changed their story. Attorneys on his behalf have filed several appeals, and he was spared only hours short of his execution last year while the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether lethal injection methods used in Georgia and other states was unconstitutionally cruel.

However, no state or federal court has ordered a new trial or even a hearing on the new witness statements.

In Georgia, a 28-year-old test exists to determine whether a statement merits a new trial. It tests each recantation individually, as opposed to counting their total.

One requirement is that only sworn statements be considered, unless a good reason explains why there was no notarized affidavit. Two of the seven witnesses who have recanted in Mr. Davis' case weren't sworn, and the courts concluded his attorneys didn't offer sufficient explanation.

Another requirement demands the new statement demonstrate the innocence of the convicted person, not merely throwing doubt on earlier testimony.

In Mr. Davis' case, several of the new statements were from witnesses who said they weren't really sure what they saw. Such comments don't fit the test, though, because they don't show that either the original testimony was pure fantasy or that Mr. Davis couldn't have been guilty. For example, if a witness now testified that Mr. Davis was in France during the murder, that would fit the test.

Two witnesses say they no longer stand by their testimony that Mr. Davis admitted his guilt to them while in jail awaiting trial. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton notes that because their original statements would be admissible in a retrial, jurors would merely be faced with a question of whether Mr. Davis made an admission. But that wouldn't prove he didn't commit the murder, Justice Melton said.

Then there are the witnesses who now say another person at the scene, Sylvester Coles, confessed to them that he was the shooter. One said he heard Mr. Coles while they were smoking pot together, and another was a woman drinking poolside with Mr. Coles.

The woman, Shirley Riley, added: "Maybe Sylvester was just trying to impress me. I don't know for sure who actually shot the officer."

Those statements are hearsay that would not be admissible during a retrial, Justice Melton said.

Besides, Georgia courts are especially cautious about someone claiming to have committed a crime as a way to frustrate justice.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court gives a little more latitude to confessions given to third parties and does consider them admissible, said Ron Carlson, a University of Georgia law professor. Their pending review could result in a new trial for that reason, he said.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.

Comments (36) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 09/28/08 - 06:25 am
0
0
The seven witnesses that

The seven witnesses that recanted their stories after 19 years seem to be poor witnesses now. Their memory is different from their statements of 19 years ago. So?

iabeewalkintomemphis
0
Points
iabeewalkintomemphis 09/28/08 - 06:28 am
0
0
Put him down like the rabid

Put him down like the rabid dog he is. He had FOURTEEN years to prove his innocence and remember, some wittnesses haven't changed their story. Past time for him to "end his journey" and meet his maker!

I4PUTT
5
Points
I4PUTT 09/28/08 - 07:44 am
0
0
had a chance to watch the

had a chance to watch the game again this morning. We got robbed! Looks as though BAMA may have been holding on their first 12 touchdowns. GO DAWGS

Waymore
114
Points
Waymore 09/28/08 - 08:03 am
0
0
Excuses, excuses! It's a good

Excuses, excuses! It's a good thing that Dawg fans chose to wear black to the game. It was easier than finding black today! GO DAWGS!! LOL

getalife
4
Points
getalife 09/28/08 - 09:20 am
0
0
All of the people on the

All of the people on the "free Davis train" need to read this article, it helps to explain why some were not considered that strong a witness to begin with. With convicted criminals being allowed to live up to 30 years past their conviction, many witnesses as their memory fades begin to doubt what they saw. If we wait a few more years to execute this man, then maybe all of the witnesses will have died?

pofwe
5
Points
pofwe 09/28/08 - 09:59 am
0
0
Set him free to live with the

Set him free to live with the Supreme Court Justices, on a rotating basis.

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 10:08 am
0
0
After 30 years a person that

After 30 years a person that actually committed a crime may doubt whether they did it. Personally I think the man should have gotten a new trial a long time ago. Reading this article I have serious doubts he committed the crime. The article does not give the dates when the witnesses changed their statements. They could have changed their statements shortly after the convection – we don’t know. If we are going to put someone to death we should know they are guilty. It does not appear to me Georgia’s legal system is capable of determining that beyond a reasonable doubt.

Johnwaltlhroopfranchetti
0
Points
Johnwaltlhroopfranchetti 09/28/08 - 10:17 am
0
0
Turner, read the freaking

Turner, read the freaking trial testimony, that will probably change your mind again. JEEZ!

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 10:26 am
0
0
John -- My opinion is based

John -- My opinion is based on recent newspaper accounts. I see doubt as to his guilt.

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 10:30 am
0
0
Reading the newspaper

Reading the newspaper accounts it makes it appear that Sylvester Coles actually kill the police officer and framed Troy Davis.

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 10:42 am
0
0
According to the newspaper

According to the newspaper accounts the trial testimony of 7 witnesses is worthless as they say they were lying. Several of them say they were coerced in to lying by the police. Then there are two people that say Sylvester Coles actually confessed to them he kill the police office. I don’t know, but when I read all this in the newspaper it creates doubts in my mind as I am sure it does with other people across the country. It does not make the people of Georgia look good in the eyes of the rest of the country.

Johnwaltlhroopfranchetti
0
Points
Johnwaltlhroopfranchetti 09/28/08 - 10:59 am
0
0
Turner, news paper accounts

Turner, news paper accounts might say the earth is square, but that doesn't make it true. Quit being lazy and do a little research review the trial testimony and the actual evidence presented. If he were innocent, it would not have taken 17 YEARS, countless appeals and thousands of tax dollars wasted to prove it! The guy they executed after 34 years said he was innocent too. If Davis were white, he would be sitting in the same place as the guy mentioned above.

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 11:08 am
0
0
John -- Why read the trial

John -- Why read the trial testimony if the witnesses were lying? Personally -- I think 17 years is too long. I never have understood why these cases take so long. How many days out of the 17 years have actually been devoted to working on this case. I bet very few.

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 11:19 am
0
0
John -- I thought the man

John -- I thought the man they executed after 34 years might be innocent too. He was convicted on the testimony of an accomplice that was on death row. The state gave his accomplice his life and the possibility of getting out of jail in 10 years in exchange for his testimony. I thought that was wrong – to me this is like paying a witness for their testimony. Personally I did not believe a word his accomplice said. His accomplice got out after 12 years. I don't believe the jury ever knew about the deal the state cut with him accomplice.

iabeewalkingtamemphis
0
Points
iabeewalkingtamemphis 09/28/08 - 11:21 am
0
0
bturner, I have to agreee

bturner, I have to agreee with franchetti, you are believing what the paper is saying. If you read what its saying, you will notice smoking pot----drinking, not very good recant testimony. What about the 2 witnessess that haven't recanted anything. You also conveniently sidestep other trial testimony and are unable to tell me why, with all the appeals, none were successful. Don't you think there is more to it than just this witness crap. And, why the 17 years??? Wait until the last minute so you can strat the crap all of again and give this worthless [filtered word]17 more years on the taxpayer dime?

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 11:31 am
0
0
This is a comment section in

This is a comment section in the newspaper. I am making comments on my opinion based on what I read here. What we write here has nothing to do with the out come of this. The state has made up their mind. I have to agree that very little of what we read, see, and hear in all the different types of news media is completely true. It all has a spin to it. We all have to decide what we think the truth is as the truth is subjective and based on personal opinion to a large degree.

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 11:45 am
0
0
The reason I think the man

The reason I think the man deserves a new trial is: I try to put myself in his place. With all this new information the newspaper has provided. I think I would be entitled to a new trial. I feel that by me standing up for this man's rights I am standing up for my own rights!

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 11:56 am
0
0
Look at what is happening to

Look at what is happening to our government. The democratic congress is meeting in secret crafting a bailout bill that our grandchildren may have to pay for. This is the same party that caused the problem trying to devise a way to get out of this. We are slowing loosing our freedom – we all need to stand up for each other’s rights – when we stand up for other people’s rights we stand up for our own rights.

genbartow
0
Points
genbartow 09/28/08 - 12:03 pm
0
0
Thank you Walter Jones for

Thank you Walter Jones for shedding some lights on this subject. All we've been able to read about the socalled "recanters" so far is what the defense attorneys release to the press, and this article shows that was mostly BS.

HYPOCRITES 08
7
Points
HYPOCRITES 08 09/28/08 - 12:18 pm
0
0
What are you talking about

What are you talking about memories fade? These people said that they had lied. What does that have to do with their memory? That lied you told at age 16 is till a lie when you turn 50. I rather trust the Courts than a bunch of posters on the Chronicle's site.

iabeewalkingtamemphis
0
Points
iabeewalkingtamemphis 09/28/08 - 12:33 pm
0
0
hypo, did they lie then or

hypo, did they lie then or are they lying now?????

HYPOCRITES 08
7
Points
HYPOCRITES 08 09/28/08 - 01:00 pm
0
0
Not my place to decide. That

Not my place to decide. That is why we have courts. Either way before a person is put to death, there should be no doubt about his guilt.

iabeewalkingtamemphis
0
Points
iabeewalkingtamemphis 09/28/08 - 01:08 pm
0
0
Then why bring it up? I

Then why bring it up? I would think after 17 years and numerous appeals, thee would be no doubt.

genbartow
0
Points
genbartow 09/28/08 - 01:09 pm
0
0
hypo, the law is "beyond a

hypo, the law is "beyond a rEASONABLE doubt".

a different drum
26
Points
a different drum 09/28/08 - 01:33 pm
0
0
I don’t see how any neutral

I don’t see how any neutral party after reading this newspaper article could say this man is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, without having other detailed information about the case. Of course someone having other information about the case would not necessarily be a neutral party in my opinion.

iabeewalkingtamemphis
0
Points
iabeewalkingtamemphis 09/28/08 - 01:57 pm
0
0
BT, Why don't you read the

BT, Why don't you read the trial testimony, then maybe YOU, would be informed.

genbartow
0
Points
genbartow 09/28/08 - 02:28 pm
0
0
BTurner, I am not saying he

BTurner, I am not saying he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because I read something in the paper. I am saying it because the jury that saw, observed and heard the witnesses and the defendent testify on direct and cross examonation says it.
They said he is guilty and he should be executed, just like he executed Officer McPhail with a shot to the head while standing over him, after he had shot him in the chest from a distance.

HYPOCRITES 08
7
Points
HYPOCRITES 08 09/28/08 - 02:30 pm
0
0
Where did anyone read the

Where did anyone read the entire transcript? Also I did not bring anything up, I responded to it. There is a difference.

HYPOCRITES 08
7
Points
HYPOCRITES 08 09/28/08 - 02:31 pm
0
0
Thanks for the reminder but I

Thanks for the reminder but I know it is beyond a reasonable doubt, but I am sure it made your day. If 7 out of 9 changed their testimony, then IMHO there may be " REASONABLE DOUBT".

HYPOCRITES 08
7
Points
HYPOCRITES 08 09/28/08 - 02:34 pm
0
0
Glad you know what the facts

Glad you know what the facts are GENBART. Did you testify as an " EYEWITNESS"?

Back to Top
loading...
Search Augusta jobs