Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Troy Davis prosecutor vs. 'The Doubt Campaign'

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2011 at 4:52 PM

According to Spencer Lawton, there are two Troy Davis cases. There's the one based on facts and the law that resulted in the convicted murderer's recent execution. And then there's the Troy Davis case that remains undecided in the court of public opinion, the one that might mean an innocent man was put to death.

Lawton, who served as chief prosecutor in Davis' case, still insists that any lingering doubt concerning Davis' guilt was craftily manufactured by opponents of the death penalty. He calls this "The Doubt Campaign."

In a piece he wrote for the Daily Report, Lawton addresses several points that have produced doubt, in particular a lack of physical evidence, witness recantations and the emergence of Sylvester Coles as a possible suspect.

On physical evidence ...

There was physical (ballistic) evidence and persuasive circumstantial evidence
Ballistics evidence established that shell casings from an event earlier in the day (in which Davis was later convicted of shooting another man in the face) matched casings recovered from the scene of Officer Mark MacPhail's murder.

On the seven witnesses who recanted their testimony after the fact ...

What is their face value? Here's an example. There were four people who were eye witnesses in the sense of specifically identifying Davis in testimony at trial as the man they saw shoot the officer. One of these refused to give a recantation; one gave an affidavit of recantation that she would not swear to and that did not in fact contradict her trial testimony; another one's "recantation" didn't actually contradict his trial testimony; and the fourth gave a direct recantation, but when she was later available to testify in person at the 2010 hearing, Davis' lawyers declined to call her as a witness —she would have been subject to cross examination.

On Sylvester Coles ...

Sylvester Coles is a black male who was involved in the altercation with the homeless man in the parking lot. Davis' supporters—including those who have chosen to make the case a racial issue ("stop the legal lynching!")—while dismissing the weight of evidence against Davis, have sought to condemn Coles on far less evidence.
Eventually they found a woman who was purportedly willing to say Coles confessed to her. At the 2010 hearing they brought her in as a witness, but they manipulated the proceedings in a way guaranteed to make her testimony inadmissible. Thus the lawyers got the best of both worlds: without subjecting her to cross examination, they could tell the world about their valuable exculpatory witness whom the court wouldn't hear. There were three other witnesses who implicated Coles at least marginally. The lawyers only bought in two for the 2010 hearing. One was the woman just mentioned. The other had a record of 76 arrests since 1990 for cocaine, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence, and took the occasion to tell his third version of the facts regarding Coles.

Because the case was pending for the better part of 22 years, Lawton has been prevented from speaking about it publicly. In his closing, he laments what the Davis case and resulting "Doubt Campaign" did to sully the credibility of the criminal justice system. "And," he says, "it has all been so unnecessary."

Read Lawton's article in its entirety here.

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