USA: ‘Where is the justice for me?’: The case of Troy Davis, facing execution in Georgia

February 1, 2007

USA: ‘Where is the justice for me?’: The case of Troy Davis, facing execution in Georgia

[T]he only remnants of the State’s case against Troy Davis is the dubious testimony of Red Coles and Steven Sanders’ questionable courtroom identification of Mr Davis.
Federal appeal brief for Troy Davis, 2005

There was no physical evidence against Troy Davis and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. In state habeas corpus proceedings in 1996, one of his trial lawyers recalled that there had been "a number of witnesses who either saw the actual shooting or saw the incident involving Mr Young, Larry Young. And there were a lot of inconsistencies about the colour of shorts, whether someone had a hat on or didn’t have a hat on, about size, about skin colouration."(35)

Nevertheless, the State of Georgia maintains that the conviction and death sentence against Troy Davis are reliable. For example, a legal brief it filed in federal court in 2005 in the case stated: "Red Coles identified petitioner as the perpetrator of Officer McPhail’s murder, as did numerous other eyewitnesses, including Harriet Murray, Dorothy Ferrell, Daryl Collins, Antoine Williams, Steven Sanders and Larry Young."(36) However, in affidavits signed over the years since the trial, all but three of the witnesses whose testimony secured the conviction and death sentence against Troy Davis have recanted or contradicted their trial testimony. At oral arguments in September 2005 in the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (see below) a lawyer from the Georgia Attorney General’s office dismissed the recantations, describing them as "rank hearsay." (37) Yet the state is relying on the testimony from those same individuals to support its bid to kill Troy Davis.

All but three of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted their testimony. One of the three who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester Coles – the principle alternative suspect, according to the defence at the trial, and against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Another is Steven Sanders. He was one of a number of members of the US Air Force who were in a van at the drive-in section of the Burger King restaurant at the time of the crime. In a statement given to police shortly after the shooting, Stephen Sanders said that he had seen a "black male wearing a white hat and white shirt, black shorts" shoot the officer and then run off with another person who Sanders thought was wearing a "black outfit". He said that he "wouldn’t recognize them again except for their clothes". However, for the first time, two years later, at the trial, Stephen Sanders identified Troy Davis as the gunman. At the time of writing, Troy Davis’ lawyers had not been able to contact Steven Sanders. Two of his Air Force colleagues, Daniel Kinsman and Robert Grizzard, who were with Sanders at the time of the crime, have signed affidavits standing by their statements given to the police that they could not identify the gunman (see below). Robert Grizzard has said that, contrary to what he mistakenly testified at the trial, he could not then and still could not recall what the gunman was wearing. For his part, Daniel Kinsman has testified that he remains convinced that the gunman was firing the gun with his left hand. Troy Davis is right-handed.