On August 24, federal judge William Moore denied Troy Davis’ petition for a new trial.
Moore was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to hold a hearing on Troy’s claim of innocence in the murder that sent him to death row. In June, Troy and his lawyers presented convincing evidence of that innocence at the two-day hearing in Savannah, Ga. Yet Judge Moore was unmoved by the testimony ruled and against Troy’s petition.
Troy was convicted largely on the basis of eyewitness testimony–no DNA connected him to the crime. During the hearing in June, most of the same witnesses from the original trial came forward to say that they were mistaken in originally identifying Troy. Other witnesses said that another man, Sylvester Coles, committed the crime.
But Moore rejected the testimony, claiming that the testimony of the seven witnesses who recanted was “too general to provide anything more than smoke and mirrors,” and the witnesses who say they heard Coles admit to the murder weren’t “credible.”
Troy’s sister Martina Correia, who has been spearheading the fight for her brother, points out that there is a double standard about what is “credible.” The recanted testimony and the testimony against Coles is considered not credible now, but when many of these same witnesses testified against Troy years ago, their stories were considered credible. Why then? Why not now?
Many people who attended the hearing had the complete opposite reaction to Judge Moore. Lawrence Hayes, a former death row prisoner and board member of the CEDP, reports:
Representing the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, on June Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010, I traveled to Savannah, Ga., to attend the Troy Davis Innocence Hearing. My original expectation was on the day of the hearing I would hear several witnesses take the witness stand, recant their testimony and, that process over, await the decision of the hearing judge. But the truth is, what I witnessed on the day of the hearing was simply extraordinary. The combined testimony of the defense witnesses removed any shadow of doubt that Troy Anthony Davis is innocent of the crime for which he stands convicted and, at the very least, is entitled to a new trial.
“When I was first approached by the police, I told them I could barely recognize the shooter,” Atwan Williams, said on the stand. “I was scared and nervous.” Atwan also signed a statement alleging Troy’s guilt. The problem is Atwan can’t read. He couldn’t even read the typed statement he signed 20 years ago when the defense counsel handed it to him at the hearing.
“When the police arrived, I told them I could barely recognize the shooter,” said Williams. “I was scared, nervous, I was just trying to take off.” Asked if he had read back the deposition he gave to police, Williams replied: “No sir, I can’t read.”
Then there was the testimony of Jeffrey Sapp, who stated that when he was questioned, he had several angry Savannah police officers surrounding him. As for his original testimony against Troy, he stated, “I was saying the same thing they told me to say.”
Kevin McQueen told the court he had been given a lighter sentence in return for simply making up the details of a confession he claimed Davis had given him. “I was mad at him,” he said.
All the recantation witnesses’ testimonies were direct, clear, unshakable and, most important, believable. For me, it was the character and presentation of these witnesses that made the credibility of the next line of witnesses plausible. These witnesses provided eyewitness and circumstantial evidence that points to another man (Sylvester “Red” Coles) as the likely killer of the police officer–the crime for which Troy Davis has been sitting on Georgia’s death row for the past 20 years.
The fact that these recantations aren’t seen as persuasive is mind-boggling. The people who recanted their testimony could face perjury charges and possible jail time for coming forward. But they came forward nonetheless because they wanted to tell the truth. Why was this not given any weight?
It seems that Southern-style justice is alive and well in Georgia. A Black man might be sitting in the White House, but that doesn’t mean a black man will be treated fairly in our court system–and this ruling is proof of it.
TAKE ACTION FOR TROY
But this fight is not over. Troy’s lawyers are busy working on his legal strategy; social justice activists need to come together and raise our voices about this outrage. Troy is in serious danger of receiving a new execution date.
The New York chapter has leafletings about Troy scheduled for this weekend:
SATURDAY, AUGUST 28–11 AM-1 PM
125th Street & Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem
SUNDAY, AUGUST 29
Downtown Brooklyn, time/place TBD
Other chapters should think of similar activities in the coming days.
We will keep folks posted as more develops. Please send in short announcements and reports of any activities you are organizing around Troy.
Here is the CEDP fact sheet on Troy Davis.