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2010-08-25

Judge Rejects Death Row Prisoner Troy Davis’s Innocence Claim

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A federal judge in Georgia has rejected death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis’s claims of innocence. Last year the Supreme Court took the unusual step of ordering a district court in Georgia to hold a special evidentiary hearing to consider evidence that surfaced after Davis’s conviction and might establish his innocence. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer, Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A federal judge in Georgia has rejected death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis’s claims of innocence. Last year the Supreme Court took the unusual step of ordering a district court in Georgia to hold a special evidentiary hearing to consider evidence that surfaced after Davis’s conviction and might establish his innocence. The hearing took place in late June, but on Tuesday, US District Judge William Moore issued a 174-page order concluding Davis is guilty.

Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there’s no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. But Tuesday’s order from Judge Moore reads, quote, "While Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors...The vast majority of evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible...After careful consideration, the court finds that Mr. Davis has failed to make a showing of actual innocence," the decision read.

Troy Davis has garnered widespread national and international support, with figures like Pope Benedict, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US President Jimmy Carter all calling for clemency in his case. Many are now concerned the latest ruling puts Davis back on track for execution.

Larry Cox, the executive director of Amnesty International, said, quote, "The testimony that came to light demonstrates that doubt still exists, but the legal bar for proving innocence was set so high it was virtually insurmountable. It would be utterly unconscionable to proceed with this execution, plain and simple," he said.

For more on the ruling, what it means, what the options are that remain for Troy Davis, I’m joined now via Democracy Now! video stream by his older sister and leading campaigner against the death penalty, Martina Correia. She joins us from her home in Savannah, Georgia.

Martina, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of the judge’s decision?

MARTINA CORREIA: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

Well, this is a tremendous setback, of course. It was very disappointing. We don’t agree with the judge’s ruling, because we know that Troy is innocent. But, you know, in the courtroom, sometimes it felt like the judge had already predisposed his opinion about Troy’s case, so it was very disheartening to know that when witnesses have come forward that have no criminal record and wanted to talk about, you know, people — you know, Sylvester "Red" Coles confessing to them about the murder, the judge wanted to rule that it’s hearsay and didn’t want to accept it. And then, when the old witnesses came forward and talked about how they were pressured into their testimonies against Troy, then their credibility came into play, but they had the same credibility when they used them to testify against Troy, so it’s really amazing how they were credible then and then not credible now.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things the judge has said, or asked, is why Coles, the person that many charge was the shooter, who say he actually admitted to this, why he wasn’t called.

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, the lawyers actually had a subpoena for Sylvester "Red" Coles, but they have no policing powers, so they can’t go on private property and serve a subpoena without policing powers. And the judge did not give them policing powers, nor did he assign any police to serve the subpoenas that were already issued and ready to be served on Sylvester Coles. So, that was something that was, you know, technical that couldn’t be helped, but, you know, the lawyers did everything they could to have him served. But, like I said, they had no policing powers, and the judge would not assist with policing powers to have the warrant served — to have the subpoena served. So what we had to do was we had to trust that he would come to court. But, you know, of course, he’s not going to come to court and try to defend himself, because it would be his word against the witnesses’ word.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the judge saying those who came forward and recanted — that said they recanted their testimony, only one marginally mattered.

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, you know, it’s amazing, because they couldn’t really dispute the — certain testimonies. And, you know, when the witnesses came up and they were testifying, the prosecutor, the state attorney, was more interested in their convictions and their prior arrests than he were in what they had to say about Troy Davis. And these people came forward on their own, you know, knowing that they faced liabilities themselves and knowing that they face other prosecutions and persecutions themselves within the court system. But they came forward. And there were some people that were afraid to come forward, because they felt threatened by the system. So, you know, it’s amazing.

I haven’t read all of the 174-page report. I’m still in the process of reading it, because I was called so much yesterday — I didn’t have time to really sit down — by the media, that I haven’t read all of the report or all of the opinion. So, you know, the lawyers are going through it page by page so that we can follow the appellate process. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you believe "Red" Coles is the person who killed Officer MacPhail, Martina?

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, "Red" Coles was the only person that was arguing with Larry Young over the can of beer, and he admitted that in court, that he was arguing with Larry Young. Larry Young said that the person he was arguing with was the person who hit him with the weapon. And Sylvester "Red" Coles threw away his weapon, and it was never found. And even in the courtroom, they asked the police, "Why didn’t you make Sylvester Coles look for his weapon?" And they said, well, they looked in some bushes, and then they never looked any further. They never searched his home. They never got a warrant. They never made him produce his weapon. And they had already fixed the case on Troy. So, if Sylvester "Red" Coles was the only one in the parking lot that night with a weapon, a .38-caliber weapon, the same caliber weapon that the police officer was shot with, and no one saw Troy with a gun, no one saw Troy pistol-whip Larry Young — Troy had no reason to pistol-whip Larry Young, because in Larry Young’s testimony he said he never saw Troy in the parking lot, Troy never spoke to him — that only leaves Sylvester "Red" Coles.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens next, Martina?

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, what happens next is we follow the appellate process. We’re waiting on the lawyers. They got to go through the opinion, page by page, section by section, and they have to break it down, and they have to find out all the avenues of appeal. And then they’ll decide whether we’ll go before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals or the US Supreme Court or whether we have other avenues to travel. And that’s the avenues that we will follow, and we will follow the appellate process to the end.

AMY GOODMAN: What was Troy’s response to the judge’s decision? I mean, this is a very significant decision, because, I mean, a case hasn’t been decided like this, sent back to a judge, a death penalty case, in what? Half a century?

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, he was very disappointed that the case was actually sent back to Chatham County. We were all elated when the US Supreme Court gave us this opportunity, but to come back to the same county where you’re convicted of and have a judge rule on your case that has been in the county, has ties to that county for so many years, you know, Troy was praying and hoping for a fair, you know, opportunity. And, of course, he feels like he didn’t get that. But he’s more concerned about our family than he is about himself and how this is impacting us, because he knows that both families are being impacted and that — you know, some people feel like, you know, why do you keep fighting? Why don’t you just let this go? But we feel that Troy is innocent, and we’re going to keep fighting until we can prove that. And we’re not going to stop fighting for his life.

AMY GOODMAN: Martina, you, in yourself, are a remarkable story. You were honored together with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as you battle cancer, considered one of the stars — your face on buses of Savannah — in battling against cancer. What gives you the strength?

MARTINA CORREIA: Well, to know that we have the truth on our side and to know that you have to take a stand for what’s right. And, you know, sometimes battling for your life, no matter what the situation, it comes out to be the same. You have to stand and fight, because you have to have the strength and the tenacity to know that when you’re doing the right thing, good outcomes come out. And so, in my battle to save myself from cancer and my battle to save my brother’s life, it’s like a parallel journey of fighting. And I will never give up. And I always keep in my heart that, you know, I may have cancer, but it doesn’t have me. And Troy may be on death row, but he is innocent, and we’re going to prove that.

AMY GOODMAN: Martina Correia, I want to thank you for being with us, Troy Davis’s older sister, anti-death penalty activist, speaking to us from her home in Savannah, Georgia.

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