Several readers have been asking about the current status of the Troy Davis case. In August, the Supreme Court called for an evidentiary hearing in connection with Davis’s innocence claims and U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. was appointed to oversee that process.
Judge Moore has been uncertain how to proceed. The Supreme Court has never ruled that the Constitution recognizes a “free-standing innocence claim”; therefore Moore isn’t sure what law applies to the Davis case and is asking for guidance. This explains, in part at least, why, four months after the Supreme Court’s unprecedented announcement, the evidentiary hearing still hasn’t been scheduled.
Fortunately, Bill Rankin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has just published an excellent summary of the case that contains some exciting new information. Here is an extended excerpt from the relevant portion of the article.
Davis’ legal team recently provided Moore with a new affidavit from a Savannah woman who said a key prosecution witness, Sylvester “Redd” Coles, told her he was the one who actually shot and killed Officer Mark Allen MacPhail.
Jason Ewart, a member of Davis’ legal team, said Davis is eager to finally present his recantation testimony in court for the first time. But the lawyer acknowledged they “are working on a blank slate. We’re really now talking about what the law should be here.”
Ewart said Davis’ new evidence is powerful. “It essentially eviscerates the evidence presented at trial and presents evidence that wasn’t available at that time,” he said.
In court filings, Davis’ lawyers continue to contend the actual killer was Coles. In a prior interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Coles denied being the triggerman.
Coles went to police shortly after MacPhail was shot dead in a Burger King parking lot. MacPhail, a 27-year-old former U.S. Army ranger, had rushed to the scene responding to the wails of Larry Young, who was being pistol-whipped.
Prosecutors said Davis was with Coles when Coles began harassing Young, demanding Young to give him a beer. Davis then began hitting Young with his pistol. After arriving at the scene, MacPhail was shot before he could unholster his firearm.
When Coles told police Davis was at the scene, Davis became the prime suspect.
At the 1991 trial, nine prosecution witnesses testified they saw Davis at the scene, saw him shoot MacPhail or were told by Davis he killed MacPhail. But since then, seven of these witnesses have recanted, saying police pressured them into falsely fingering Davis.
Coles is one of the two key witnesses who has not recanted his testimony. Since the trial, Coles has confessed to five separate friends and family members that he killed MacPhail, said a court filing by Davis’ legal team.
The most recent person to come forward is Quiana Glover, a Savannah woman who said she was at a friend’s house in June when Coles told her he killed MacPhail, according to her affidavit. Glover said she had known Coles since she was a young girl.
According to Glover’s affidavit, a woman who was with Coles at the party told him he was drinking too much and to slow down. “This [expletive] is killing me,” Coles replied.
When Glover said she asked what Coles was talking about, he said, “Man, looky here, I’m the one who killed that [expletive]. But if they want to hold Troy’s [expletive] then let them hold him. Besides, I’ve got kids to raise.”
Glover said that several days later she was at a sports bar when she saw a married couple, Hollis Mitchell and Alicia Blakely, wearing “I Am Troy Davis” T-shirts and asking people to sign a petition they were going to give to the local district attorney.
Glover said she signed the petition and then, after hesitating, told them what she said Coles had told her, her affidavit said. She gave them her cell phone number and was later contacted by an investigator for Davis’ legal team, who took her sworn statement.
Glover did not return phone calls last week seeking comment.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Blakely recounted meeting Glover at the sports bar.
“She came up to me and said she had something to tell me,” Blakely said. “She said, ‘I know who killed that police officer.’’’
After Glover repeated what she said Coles had told her, Blakely said, “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, oh, my gosh, we’ve got to get that out there.”
Friends of Justice has been following this case closely, partly because it overlaps considerably with the case of Curtis Flowers in Mississippi. The manipulation of eyewitness testimony is a major feature of both cases. Flowers and Davis are unusually egregious examples of a problem afflicting the criminal justice system nationwide. Not only do police officers and investigators coerce “eyewitnesses” into cooperating with the government’s theory of the case; there is growing evidence that even sincere and well-intentioned eye-witness testimony if far less reliable than is generally believed.
I will have more to say on this aspect of the two cases as events unfold.