The Troy Davis Ruling
Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore issued a ruling on Troy Davis. The Judge ruled that Davis was indeed guilty of the Murder of Savannah Policeman Mark MacPhail. The case has been the center of controversy, with many people claiming Davis to be innocent.
As with most capital cases, there is a wealth of material. There is the ruling . The Savannah Morning News has a collection of newspaper stories from the time of the murder and trial. Chamblee 54 has written three times about Troy Davis.
Before we start to look at this material, it should be noted that this reporter is not a lawyer. PG has little patience for multiple witness accounts at the different stages of the judicial process. He has not read every word of the ruling, and may have missed some things. However, there are a few items from the newspaper reports that the Judge seems to have missed. This might be the fault of the Davis legal team, which was thoroughly criticized by the Judge. Also, this report is not a complete version of all the issues in this case. If you want to know more, read the ruling .
A bit after midnight on August 19, 1989, Larry Young and his girlfriend, Harriet Murray, were drinking beer in the parking lot of a Burger King. Somebody asked Mr. Young for a beer, and the argument got nasty. Mr. Young was hit in the face with a pistol. An off duty Savannah Policeman, Mark MacPhail, came to break up the fight. Mr. MacPhail was shot dead.
There were a few witnesses. There were the three men harassing Mr. Young. There was a van in the drive through of the Burger King. The Thunderbird motel was across the street, and some guests saw the action. The recollections of the witnesses are inconsistent. There was a good bit of confusion as to who wore a yellow shirt, and who wore a white shirt. What seems certain is the Troy Davis was on the scene, in addition to Sylvester “Redd” Coles.
At 8:52 pm on August 19, Mr. Coles gave a statement to the Savannah Police. ( Page 19 ruling) He said that Davis was the one who pulled the trigger. Apparently the Police believed Mr. Coles. On August 21 , a story was printed saying that Troy Davis was the suspect. He was arrested on August 24 .
The case did not go to trial for two years. There was a curious incident the day after the killing. Police went to the home of Mr. Davis’s mother, and apparently coerced her into allowing a search of her home. Any evidence found in this raid was not admissable in the trial.
During the trial, the most sensational testimony came from Harriette Murray , the girlfriend of the man whose beer started this matter. She said ” After he shot the police, he had a little smile on his face.” Page 45 of the ruling has an ironic comment on this “On cross-examination, Ms. Murray admitted that she was a little near-sighted and had trouble seeing long distances without her glasses, which she was not sure if she was wearing that night.”
On August 29, 1991, Troy Davis was convicted of the murder of Mark MacPhail, and sentenced to death. The endless wrangling of a capital case began.
In the years since, the case has become a bit of a celebrity cause. The murder weapon was never found. Seven of the nine witnesses at the trial were said to have recanted. Finally, a hearing was held to determine if Troy Davis could produce evidence of his innocence.
Evidently, once you are convicted of a capital crime, the burden of proof changes. Troy Davis was apparently guilty until proven innocent. This matter is discussed in excruciating detail in the ruling.
Judge Moore rejected six of the seven recantations, and said the seventh was obviously lying anyway. The Judge rejected the claim of innocence. He did state that it was unconstitutional to execute an innocent man. The witty Judge noted (page 156) “Apparently, a disturbing number of people were armed on the night Officer MacPhail was murdered. At some point that evening Mr. Coles, Mr. Davis, “Terry,” Mark Wilds, and Lamar Brown all carried a firearm.”
Two of these rejected recantations are noteworthy. Dorothy Farrell was staying at the Thunderbird motel, and saw the incident. Her recantation was in affidavit form, not subject to cross examination. The Judge was sternly critical. What the Judge did not mention was that on September 15, 1989, Ms. Farrell was assaulted. The man robbed her and called her a “snitch” and a “cracker lover”.
The other noteworthy recantation was Harriet Murray. Ms. Murray is deceased, and not available to testify. Her written statement was not notarized. From page 141 of the ruling “Ms. Murray’s “recantation” is an unnotarized affidavit,begrudgingly obtained. (Evidentiary Hearing Transcript at 41 (“Q: Mr. Hanusz, can you explain why the affidavit was not notarized. A: The affidavit was not notarized because neither Mr. Mack nor myself are South Carolina notaries, and Ms. Murray would not allow us time to get a notary or accompany us to a notary to have it sworn.”) .)
After reading all this, the question arises, “Does Chamblee54 think that Troy Davis is guilty?”. The answer is a firm don’t know. It is apparent the Mr. Davis was at the scene, and involved in the incident. The number of witnesses serves to confuse. While there is not firm proof of innocence, it seems in a capital case a higher standard of proof is needed.