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

You’ve either got to believe that Troy Davis did all of this stuff or that Sylvester Coles did.
Prosecution at the trial of Troy Davis

On 28 August 1991 Troy Davis was convicted by a jury of the murder of a police officer, 27-year-old Mark Allen McPhail, who had been shot in the car park of a Burger King fast food restaurant in Savannah, a city on the Georgia/South Carolina border, in the early hours of 19 August 1989. According to the autopsy, Officer McPhail had been hit by two bullets, one in the face and one in the body. He had died as a result of blood loss caused by the bullet that had hit him in the side of his chest and pierced his lung.

Troy Davis was also convicted of two counts of aggravated assault for the shooting of Michael Cooper that occurred earlier that night as Cooper was leaving a party in the nearby Cloverdale district of Savannah, and an attack on Larry Young, a homeless man, who was accosted and struck across the face with a pistol immediately before Officer McPhail was shot. A ballistics expert testified at the trial that the .38 calibre bullet that killed Officer McPhail could possibly have been fired from the same gun that wounded Michael Cooper, although he admitted that he had "some doubt" about this. He was "confident" that .38 calibre shell casings found at the Cloverdale party matched one allegedly found by a homeless man near the Burger King restaurant. The homeless man did not testify at the trial.

The Georgia Supreme Court would later summarize the evidence from the trial as follows:
"At midnight, on August 18, 1989, the victim, a police officer, reported for work as a security guard at the Greyhound Bus Station in Savannah, adjacent to a fast food restaurant. As the restaurant was closing, a fight broke out in which Davis struck a man with a pistol. The victim, wearing his police uniform – including badge, shoulder patches, gun belt, .30 revolver, and night stick – ran to the scene of the disturbance. Davis fled. When the victim ordered him to halt, Davis turned around and shot the victim. The victim fell to the ground. Davis, smiling, walked up to the stricken officer and shot him several more times. The officer’s gun was still in his holster…

The next afternoon, Davis told a friend that he had been involved in an argument at the restaurant the previous evening and struck someone with a gun. He told the friend that when a police officer ran up, Davis shot him and that he went to the officer and ‘finished the job’ because he knew the officer got a good look at his face when he shot him the first time. After his arrest, Davis told a cellmate a similar story".(21)

At the trial, Troy Davis denied having shot Michael Cooper at the Cloverdale party, claiming that the first time he had ever seen Cooper was in the courtroom. He admitted that he had been at the scene of the shooting outside the Burger King, but claimed that he had neither assaulted Larry Young nor shot Officer McPhail.

Troy Davis further denied having told anyone that he had killed Officer McPhail. 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 McPhail. McQueen testified to this effect at the trial. Another witness, Jeffrey Sapp, also testified that Troy Davis had told him that he had shot the officer, but that it had been in self-defence.

The state presented 15 witnesses to testify as to Troy Davis’ guilt. One of them was Sylvester "Red" Coles. At the trial, Sylvester Coles admitted that he had been carrying a .38 calibre silver chrome handgun, the same calibre used in the shooting, half an hour before Officer McPhail was shot. He said that he had discarded the gun before the incident, and that he had not seen the gun again. Coles had gone to the police with a lawyer soon after the shooting and made a statement exonerating himself and implicating Troy Davis as the gunman. At the trial, Troy Davis’ defence lawyers argued: