Georgia Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Troy Davis Case
(APN) ATLANTA — Attorneys spent 40 minutes delivering oral arguments in the case of Troy Anthony Davis v. Georgia before justices and a crowed courtroom at the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 20, 2007. Atlanta Progressive News observed the hearing from the courtroom.
At issue is whether the Chatham Superior Court in Savannah erred by denying Davis’s motion for a new trial or not at least hearing new evidence that Davis’s attorneys contend is new and proves his innocence.
The Georgia Supreme Court issued a stay of execution and granted Davis’a application for discretionary appeal on August 03, 2007, and agreed to hear arguments in the case.
“This is a case of mistaken identity,” Jason Ewart, an attorney for Davis, told the justices. “There is no evidence pointing to Troy Davis.”
A jury convicted Davis in 1991 of the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail and sentenced him to death row.
Prosecutors based their entire case on witness testimony and no physical evidence was ever found linking Davis to the shooting.
Seven of nine witnesses have either changed or recanted their original testimony since Davis’s conviction.
Four of these recantations, presented by Davis’s attorneys as affidavits, implicate Sylvester “Red” Coles, who was at the scene of the crime in 1989 but who was never included in the photo lineup presented to witnesses.
“These recantations do matter if it undermines the confidence of the verdict,” Ewart said, who described the new testimony as “credible.”
Davis’s attorneys, who brought an extraordinary motion for a new trial, argue Davis’s case fulfills the six-part test for such motions as laid out in a 1980 Georgia Supreme Court decision, Timberlake v. State.
The State, on the other hand, argues Davis’s case fails to meet any of those requirements.
“It’s not reliable to say later, ‘Oh, I made it up,'” David Lock, Chatham County’s Chief Assistant District Attorney, said of the recantations. “There needs to be some other evidence supporting the recantations. [The defense] really hasn’t explained how they obtained the affidavits.”
Davis’s supporters contend witnesses were coerced into implicating Davis by police in a rush to lay blame on someone for the murder of a police officer.
“Everybody wants to say there was a grand police conspiracy, that they put words in the mouth of witnesses,” Lock said. “If there was a conspiracy, it was not by police before the trial; it was by Davis and his supporters after it.”
“We would never stoop to the level of forcing someone to lie,” Martina Correia, Davis’s sister, bristled after the hearing. “It took these people coming forward on their own. There was no coercion.”
Lock said Davis’s attorneys should have pursued a new trial years ago if they truly believed in the new testimony but said they decided to wait until just eight days before execution to petition a Savannah judge to look at the new evidence and ask for a new trial.
Ewart countered that Davis’s legal team appealed the original decision in federal courts during the time the affidavits were obtained, a period lasting several years.
Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) held a press conference after the hearing where Davis’s supporters expressed hope for the future.
“All we wanted was Troy to have a fair day in court,” Virginia Davis, mother of Troy Anthony, said after the hearing. “It’s never too late to hear new evidence.”
“When a man’s life is in the balance, it is unconscionable to ignore new evidence because of technicalities,” Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Director of AIUSA, said in a statement released before the hearing.
“The Georgia Supreme Court hearing signifies that authorities built a case on the absence of physical evidence and the testimony of unreliable witnesses,” he added.
AIUSA released a report in February 2007 that raised serious concerns about the guilty verdict and the State’s behavior in obtaining testimony. Since then, AIUSA has mobilized support worldwide for Davis.
“We care about the MacPhail family too,” Correia said. “Killing Troy will not honor Officer MacPhail.”
“I would never take another human being’s life, and… my family is in mourning, the victim’s family is in mourning, and the truth is still locked in because I didn’t get justice,” Davis said in a recent recording available at amnestyusa.org/troydavis.
“It is far from certain that the right person is behind bars,” Feuer said in a statement released after the hearing. “A new trial can help ensure that unanswered questions are laid to rest, and that Georgia will not risk executing an innocent man.”
Justices will consider both sides and could reach a decision as early as January or February 2008, but could take up to six months to decide, according to Laura Moye of AIUSA’s Southern Regional Office.
This Court has played a role in this saga before, first upholding the original conviction in 1993 and then affirming another court’s denial of Davis’s writ of habeas corpus, a court proceeding brought in the county where a prisoner is incarcerated to determine whether his imprisonment is illegal, in 2000.
Only five of the seven justices were in attendance Tuesday. Chief Justice Leah Sears and Justice Robert Benham, who were away on court business, will watch a recording of the arguments and participate in the court’s decision, Justice Carol Hunstein said.
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Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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