Troy Davis (1968- ) is an American prisoner who was found guilty of killing police officer Mark MacPhail in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah, Georgia back in 1989. As I write this Davis is set to be put to death next week on September 21st 2011 at 7:00 pm (2300 GMT).
There is so much doubt about his guilt that many are against it: not just the NAACP, Amnesty International, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and the pope but even William Sessions, former head of the FBI and one-time Texas judge. And Bob Barr, former Georgia Republican Congressman. No bleeding-heart liberals they.
The case against Davis has fallen apart. It was based on eyewitness testimony alone, no physical evidence. Seven of the nine eyewitnesses have taken back their story. One of the two who still sticks to his story is the likely killer himself, Sylvester “Redd” Coles.
Many said they were forced by the police to lie in court. Some were in trouble with the law themselves and were threatened with prison.
One witness said:
I got tired of them harassing me, and they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear. I told them that Troy told me he did it, but it wasn’t true.
Another witness was able to pick out a picture of Davis’s face, a black man whose face she saw from across a parking lot in the middle of the night. Her amazing powers of observation were probably aided by the appearance of Davis’s face in the news. And, as she puts it, because she was on parole.
One eyewitness signed a police statement that Davis did it and yet could not read!
Meanwhile it seems likely that Redd Coles is the killer:
- Nine people have signed statements to that effect.
- He has bragged about doing it.
- He was the one who talked the police into believing Davis did it.
- He was the one who MacPhail approached right before he was shot (Coles was beating up a homeless man).
- Shortly after the killing Coles hid a gun that was the kind which killed MacPhail.
Judges are extremely unwilling to overturn jury verdicts. So it has been hard for Davis to even appeal the case. When the US Supreme Court allowed a hearing on the matter in 2010 (Clarence Thomas dissenting) Davis had to prove his innocence with stronger evidence than that which had proven him guilty. In effect he needed physical evidence. But the police had gathered no DNA, no fingerprints, no murder weapon.
The main way death row cases are overturned is through DNA evidence. Most of the known innocents were put on death row through eyewitness testimony alone, just like Davis.
His fate now rests in the hands of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. He will appear before them two days before he is set to die. They will then decide whether to proceed. His execution has been put off three times already.