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

A third witness who has contradicted her trial testimony is Harriet Murray. Murray, who was also homeless at the time, was with her friend Larry Young on the night of the crime. Her various statements given to the police, at the preliminary hearing, at the trial, and in an affidavit signed on 14 October 2002 are inconsistent. According to Troy Davis’s federal appeals, Harriet Murray’s police statement and her testimony at the preliminary hearing appear to implicate Sylvester Coles. At the subsequent trial she identified Troy Davis as the gunman, but was not asked and did not say whether the man who followed Larry Young, harassed him and attacked him was the same person who shot the police officer. In her 2002 affidavit, she did not identify Troy Davis as the shooter. This was consistent with a statement she gave to police after the crime, in which she simply stated that she had witnessed "a black man" accost Larry Young and hit him on side of the face with his gun. She said she saw the same man subsequently shoot the police officer. She said that she had also seen "two other black men" nearby but they were "not right up with Larry and the other man".

Troy Davis’ lawyers have argued in appeal briefs filed in federal court that the description contained in Harriet Murray’s 2002 affidavit, her 1989 police statement and 1989 preliminary hearing testimony identify Sylvester Coles as the person who shot Officer McPhail in four respects. Firstly, Murray describes the gunman as the man who argued with Larry Young and who had tried "to start something with Larry". The lawyers state that at the trial, Sylvester Coles admitted to being the only person who had been "picking a fight" with Young. Secondly, in her affidavit, Harriet Murray recalls that the gunman shouted to Young, "You don’t know me. I’ll shoot you." The lawyers stated that at the trial, Larry Young testified that the person with whom he argued shouted something like "You don’t know me, I’ve got a gun, I’ll shoot you". They state that neither Troy Davis nor Darrell Collins (see below) had said anything to Young. Thirdly, Harriet Murray’s affidavit recalls that the man who argued with Young had followed the latter up Oglethorpe Avenue.(38) The lawyers state that at the trial, Larry Young and Sylvester Coles had testified that it had been Coles who had followed Young up Oglethorpe Avenue. Finally, the affidavit states that the "two other black men" were walking through the bank drive-in section and were not near Larry Young when he was assaulted. The lawyers state that this was consistent with what Coles, Young and Davis testified at trial.

The witnesses in Troy Davis’ case fall into a number of categories. There are "informants", who claimed that Troy Davis told them that he had shot Officer McPhail. There are "eyewitnesses", who were present at or near the scene of the crime. There are "party witnesses" who were present at the Cloverdale party and were used to link Davis to the shooting of Michael Cooper that occurred there prior to the killing of the police officer. Finally, there are a number of people who were not heard at trial, including those whose affidavit statements implicate Sylvester Coles as the gunman.

The witnesses are listed below by category and in the chronological order in which their affidavits were signed.(39)

1. ‘Informant’ testimony