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

The Commission on Capital Punishment, set up by Governor Ryan of Illinois after he imposed a moratorium on executions in 2000, examined the question of testimony provided by in-custody informants. The Commission’s April 2002 report concluded that, even with stringent safeguards on the use of such evidence, "the potential for testimony of questionable reliability remains high, and imposing the death penalty in such cases appears ill-advised". The Commission points out that "a number of the Illinois cases in which inmates were ultimately released from death row involved proffers of testimony from in-custody informants, and much of which was of dubious veracity." It recommended that prosecutors and defence lawyers involved in capital cases should receive periodic training on "the risks of false testimony by in-custody informants".

In 1996, a federal judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit offered the following advice to prosecutors: "The most dangerous informer of all is the jailhouse snitch who claims another prisoner has confessed to him… The precautionary rule of thumb with a jailhouse confession presented by another inmate is that it is false until the contrary is proved beyond a reasonable doubt".(40)

Kevin McQueen
Affidavit, 5 December 1996
In September and October 1989, Kevin McQueen was detained in the same jail as Troy Davis. McQueen told the police that during this time Troy Davis had confessed to shooting Officer Mark McPhail. In his 1996 affidavit, he retracted this statement, saying that he had given it because he wanted to "get even" with Davis following a confrontation he said the two of them had allegedly had.

"The truth is that Troy never confessed to me or talked to me about the shooting of the police officer. I made up the confession from information I had heard on T.V. and from other inmates about the crimes. Troy did not tell me any of this… I have now realized what I did to Troy so I have decided to tell the truth… I need to set the record straight".

Monty Holmes
Affidavit, 17 August 2001
Monty Holmes testified against Troy Davis in a preliminary pre-trial hearing, but did not testify at the trial, as he explains in an affidavit signed in August 2001:
"In August of 1989, the police came to talk to me about the officer who was killed in Savannah. They wanted to know if Troy Davis was involved in the shooting and whether he had said anything to me about being involved with the shooting… By the way the police were talking, I thought I was going to be in trouble. I told them I didn’t know anything about who shot the officer, but they kept questioning me. I was real young at that time and here they were questioning me about the murder of a police officer like I was in trouble or something. I was scared… [I]t seemed like they wouldn’t stop questioning me until I told them what they wanted to hear. So I did. I signed a statement saying that Troy told me that he shot the cop."

When I had to go to court that first time, I felt like I had to say what was in that statement or I’d be in trouble, so that’s what I did. When it came to the trial though, I didn’t want to go because I knew that the truth was that Troy never told me anything about shooting [the police officer]. I heard the police were coming by to give me a subpoena for trial. I dodged the subpoena but they still left it with my mother. I still didn’t feel like I could walk in a court and say those things so I didn’t go to the trial".