Troy Davis hearing ends; no date yet for decision on new trial

Savannah Now
Friday, June 25, 2010

Testimony that Sylvester "Redd" Coles fired the fatal gunshots into a Savannah police officer provides clear and compelling new evidence that Troy Anthony Davis should get a new trial, his lawyer argued Thursday.

Referring to testimony Wednesday by Benjamin Gordon that he saw Coles fire a shot into Mark Allen MacPhail on Aug. 19, 1989, attorney Jason Ewart argued, "This type of evidence is most important to this case."

Davis' attorneys have argued Coles, not Davis, killed MacPhail and that Savannah police committed to Davis as the murderer early on to the exclusion of all other suspects.

He contends the state failed to substantiate evidence of blood on a pair of black shorts found in the laundry room of Davis' mother, Virginia Davis, or to prove bullets taken from MacPhail's body matched those taken from a shooting victim in Cloverdale earlier Aug. 19.

But Beth Attaway Burton, senior assistant attorney general, argued the defense team had failed to produce any new evidence in the case.

"This was their chance," she told U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. "Their standard is extremely high. They have not met it."

The hearing, which began Wednesday in Savannah's federal courthouse, came to an end Thursday afternoon.

After peppering attorneys with a series of questions, Moore told them he wanted briefs on a series of issues by 5 p.m. July 7, with no response time to follow for either party.

He promised to rule after receiving their responses, but said he could not give them a "time frame on that."

The U.S. Supreme Court last August directed that a federal judge take testimony to determine whether it "clearly establishes (Davis') innocence."

Davis, who appeared in court both days of the hearing, was expected to be returned immediately to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison at Jackson, where he has remained on death row since his conviction and death sentence Aug. 28, 1991.

His lawyers argue state and federal appellate courts have repeatedly upheld his conviction and sentence based on what they call technicalities.

They have argued a judge should hear what they say is newly discovered evidence to grant Davis a new trial.

State assistant attorneys have argued the evidence is simply a rehash of earlier arguments.

Families respond

After sitting across a cramped courtroom from each other throughout the exhaustive 2-day hearing, both the Davis and MacPhail families emerged with confidence late Thursday afternoon.

"We believe now more than ever that Troy Anthony Davis was the killer of our father," Mark MacPhail Jr. said as he left the federal courthouse alongside his sister, Madison MacPhail. "To me, personally, they proved beyond a reasonable doubt."

Their grandmother, Anneliese MacPhail, found it trying to be near the man convicted of her son's killing.

"The hardest thing for us was to look at Troy Davis, sitting right there," she said. "He is alive, and my son is dead. And my son left a family. (Davis is) not married and doesn't have a wife or kids."

Across Wright Square, meanwhile, Davis' family expressed renewed hope and optimism.

"All of our evidence was presented, and that's what we were wanting," said Virginia Davis, his mother. "I'm very optimistic everything's going to be all right. We're just hoping the judge will make the right decision."

Martina Correia, Troy Davis' sister and champion since his conviction, also came away hopeful.

"You cannot correct an injustice with another injustice," she said. "All we're asking for is a fair shake."

Coles ruled out

In court Thursday, Savannah lead detective Greg Ramsey testified Coles "was not a suspect in this case."

Witnesses told police Coles fled the scene of the parking lot outside the Greyhound Bus Terminal/Burger King at Oglethorpe Avenue and Fahm Street as MacPhail ran to help Larry Johnson, a homeless man Coles was attacking over a beer.

Witnesses said Coles was wearing a yellow or gold T-shirt.

"The officer ran past him?" Johnson was asked.

"That's correct," Johnson told investigators, Ramsey testified.

Prosecution witnesses have consistently testified the man who pistol-whipped Johnson, then turned the gun on MacPhail, was wearing a white shirt, dark shorts and perhaps a white cap.

Davis' defense team did not call Coles to the stand and did not call all of the 6 witnesses they say recanted their testimony.

That drew Moore's comments when Burton objected to using another witness to use hearsay evidence.

"Mr. Coles is available to testify but you don't call him." Moore said. "We're not going to proceed this way."

Also Thursday, U.S. Probation Officer Chambliss T. Stevens testified she supervised Michael Cooper while she was working as a state probation officer.

Cooper, who was shot in the face outside a pool party in Cloverdale shortly before MacPhail was slain, told her he would not report for a drug-treatment program.

"He came in out of the blue and said he had been using crack and wanted inpatient treatment. I told him there was an out-patient program I could refer him to," Chambliss testified.

"He said he wanted an in-patient program because he owed money to his drug dealer (but) said I might as well lock him up because he was already shot once by Troy Davis the same night Davis shot the policeman."

Davis' 1991 convictions included the shooting case.

No ulterior motive

Ramsey also denied railroading Coles.

"I was in no rush," Ramsey said. "I absolutely wanted the right guy. I'd rather the right guy got away 100 times than get someone I didn't think was the right person."

He conceded police never recovered the gun in the case.

Former District Attorney Spencer Lawton Jr., who helped prosecute Davis, denied allegations by witness Jeffrey Sapp he urged the witness to stick to his story accusing Coles.

"Did you present any perjured testimony at the trial of Troy Anthony Davis?" Lawton was asked.

"Absolutely not," he responded.

In response to a similar question from Moore, Lawton responded, "Absolutely not. In my opinion, it's absurd."

The Troy Anthony Davis case

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted in Chatham County Superior Court on Aug. 28, 1991, in the slaying of Mark Allen MacPhail.

The off-duty Savannah police officer was gunned down Aug. 19, 1989, as he rushed to assist a homeless man being assaulted in the parking lot of the Greyhound Bus Terminal/Burger King restaurant at Oglethorpe Avenue and Fahm Street.

The jury recommended the death penalty.

State and federal courts reviewing the case have universally upheld the result.

The U.S. Supreme Court last August transferred the case to U.S. District Court, ordering a judge to take evidence and determine whether new defense evidence "clearly establishes (Davis') innocence."