Monday, September 26, 2011

The Postmortem Evaluation of Troy Anthony Davis: Burden of Proof

I think I'm going to make this the last post on the Davis case, at least for a while. There's a big point I want to make still, so I guess I'll have to do it herein, toot sweet.

I begin by shamelessly bragging that the New York Times linked to the Yellow and White series, the one that I wrote and the one which you guys populated with insightful comments. From their opinion pages for 26 September, Ross Douthat makes the link in his post Notes on the Death Penalty.
1) After a week’s worth of reading, I remain agnostic about Davis’s actual guilt or innocence. I recommend reading Charles Lane (and via Lane, Judge William T. Moore) for a strong argument that the justice system got this case right. Out of the numerous pieces arguing that Davis’s execution was a miscarriage of justice, this series of posts by the Skeptical Juror stands out for its attention to detail and its distinctive approach to the evidence. If you pressed me sharply to take a position, I would incline to the view that the Davis was guilty. But guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? Given everything that’s come out since the original trial, I think that a new jury should have been asked to make that call.
If you have the time, I suggest you read Charles Lane's article. Charles is reasonably confident that Davis was guilty, based in large measure on the trust he put in Judge Moore as a student of the case and as a Judge of stature.

I recognized Charles Lane's name. I've seen him on Fox News with Bret Baier. Charles is occasionally on the show as an analyst, and he seems to be insightful and level-headed. I like him. I consider it an honor, actually, that my writing is juxtaposed against his.

As far as I know, it's the first time I've been mentioned in the NY Times. It's probably going to be the last too, due to the snarky remark to follow. Until recently, I distrusted the Times writing as heavily biased and scientifically inaccurate. I now see that they are a publication of discerning taste.

Earlier, the Yellow and White series had been linked to by Ace Of Spades, a conservative blogger of some prominence. The link below goes to Part 1 of the series.
Troy Davis Executed
Dead Now: Executed at 11:08.
This blog post (and its sequels) details a more complicated case than Ann Coulter's column suggested.
[Insightful discussion regarding the series here.]
If you like CSI, or Law & Order, especially those ambiguous-ending episodes, the whole murky mess is worth a read.
Hahahahaha. I assume he meant the case was a murky mess, not my writing. Either way is fine with me though.

Ace juxtaposed the Yellow and White series against an article by Ann Coulter. Unlike Charles Lane, Ann is a provocative windbag. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

If you have the stomach, I suggest you read Ann's post. Ann is not only absolutely certain that Davis was guilty, she is absolutely certain that we have never, ever, ever (since 1950) executed an innocent person.
I notice that the people so anxious to return this sociopathic cop-killer to the street don't live in his neighborhood.

There's a reason more than a dozen courts have looked at Davis' case and refused to overturn his death sentence. He is as innocent as every other executed man since at least 1950, which is to say, guilty as hell.
Here's the interesting point, for those of you who sense newspapers are losing their monopoly. The link from Ace of Spades brought 776 hits to this blog. The NY Times brought 77.

Holy Factor of Ten, Batman! Now you know why I didn't make any snarky remarks about Ace.

Okay. Now it's time for me to justify the self-serving writing above by making it relevant to what follows. Here goes.

The point I am pleased to make here is that I've seen better analysis of the Troy Anthony Davis case in the comments to this blog than I saw in either Charles Lane's or Ann Coulter's article. You guys know the details of the case better, you constructed your arguments in accordance with those facts, and many of you admitted to uncertainty even after making your best case.

Another name for that last characteristic is an open mind. The wrongful conviction problem will not be solved by people who can't conceive they were ever wrong.

To prove my case that the analysis in the comments to this blog was superior to that of Charle's Lane and Ann Coulter, I offer a comment by Reader R. Lee.
This comes only after many scenarios have been considered, several of which I've not seen considered elsewhere. I will post again to discuss an opinion of how I think the whole night went down and some theories I would have explored had I been Mr. Davis' defense attorney.  
The Shooting of Officer McPhail, 1:08 am, August 19, 1989: 
Like everyone else, my initial efforts were spent in taking in all of the pieces of evidence, and the shirt colors worn that night were no small part. But, the questionable issue of clothing, the widely varying physical descriptions and the highly suspect photo and lineup identifications after one suspect had fingered the other had me look beyond all of those factors. Wasn't there convincing testimony to reveal who shot McPhail without using facial indentification, physical characteristics and clothing? 
You could almost call this 'the case within the case'. The crux of it all lies with three undisputable acts and three very credible testimonies. Everything else is background noise.
Troy Davis (at trial): Sylvester Coles argued with Larry Young continuously from the parking lot of the pool room and convenience store for two blocks into the Burger King parking lot as Davis trailed close behind. As Davis was leaving the parking lot (in the direction of the bank building) he saw Collins running up ahead of him in the same direction.
Larry Young (2 hours after the shooting): He was trailed by three people into the Burger King parking lot, arguing with one of them since leaving the pool room parking lot over a block away. He [Young] was looking at the guy he'd been arguing with when another person hit him in the side of the head. The third person was not involved in the altercation.
Larry Young (at trial): The person who hit him was definitely not the person with whom he had argued.
Antoine Williams (2 hours after the shooting): Three persons followed Mr. Young into the Burger King parking lot. A person hit Mr. Young with a gun. A police officer runs after the person with the gun. The two unarmed persons are running away as gunman attempts to put gun in pants. As police officer nears gunman, the gunman shoots the police officer.
Davis identifies by name the only two suspects in this case, himself and Sylvester Coles, and he exonerates Collins from being either the person who was arguing with Mr. Young and/or the person who hit Mr. Young, as does Coles' testimony. 
Davis as well identifies Sylvester Coles as being the person who was arguing with Mr. Young. Young, though he admits he might be sketchy on identifying the suspects visually, is emphatic about stating that the person who hit him was not the person who was harassing him verbally. Thus, it is clear that Sylvester Coles was arguing with Mr. Young and that Troy Davis hit Mr. Young on the side of his face with the butt of a gun. 
There were actually three witnesses who on the night of the shooting stated that the person who hit Mr. Young also shot McPhail (actually there was a fourth, but the fourth did not see the first shot that was fired). However, two of them were on the east side of the parking lot, and were momentarily distracted by Mr. Young's dash for help before looking back to see the officer get shot. Antoine Williams was in his car on the other side of the commotion with a full view of all that occurred. 
Williams clearly asserts (and we have no reason to doubt his veracity whatsoever) that the only weapon he saw was that which the assailant [Troy Davis] had used to hit Mr. Young, whereupon the assailant [Troy Davis] was attempting to put the gun back in his pants and "appeared to panic" as the officer approached. The assailant [Troy Davis] turned and shot the officer [McPhail].
Case closed.
Reader R. Lee clearly has a better grasp of the case details than do either Lane or Coulter, at least based on their writing. Also, Reader Lee knows his readers have a better grasp on the case details than either Lane or Coulter can expect of their readers. That's why their writing is fluffier, less focused. That's why they're so willing to ultimately relinquish their decision to Judge Moore or give in to their confirmation bias. That's why they can't get to the heart of the matter.  

Here's what I like about Reader Lee's analysis. He provided the clearest, most organized, argument for guilt based on the statements and testimony of people who actually witnessed at least some part of the crime.

Here's where I think Reader Lee went wrong.

1. He began by trying to preempt all evidence and arguments that might contradict his scenario. "Everything else is background noise." See. While many of us try to wrestle with the shirt swapping business, and while many of us have at least some concern about the statements and testimony due to multiple, similar claims of police coercion, Reader Lee simply declares by fiat that "Everything else is background noise."  That's a pretty easy way out. I think it would have been better had he simply made clear that he intended to focus, for the purpose of his argument, on the statements and testimonies of those who witnessed the crime. He could have then worried about rationalizing his conclusion with all the other evidence later.

2. He attempted to lead his readers to an irrefutable conclusion by building his foundation block by irrefutable block. That's good, except some of his blocks were crappy. Consider his claim that we have no reason whatsoever to doubt the veracity of Burger King Employee Antoine Williams. Hahahahaha. Good one.

Williams first said that the shooter wore a white or blue t-shirt, that the tint on his windows kept him from being sure which. Heck, I doubted his veracity at that point. In his second statement, he added that his window tint would not have prevented him from distinguishing yellow from white or blue. That's bullshit of course. I knew by his second statement he was pretty much telling the police what they wanted to hear. Then he testified at trial that Davis was the shooter and was wearing a yellow or white shirt.  Good one Antoine. On cross, he changed his mind and said that he must have been right earlier when he said the shooter was wearing a blue or white shirt. In his recantation, he said his windows were so tinted he couldn't make out any colors. Now how did Reader Lee, who read all the case information, get all the way from that incorrect / perjurious testimony to no doubt about his veracity?

Consider also the faith he put in Larry Young's statement, despite Young's recantation that he was both drunk and drugged. Recall that Young was going to the store to get more beer, given they had already gone through the first, or second, or third batch. Which Larry Young does Reader Lee choose to believe: the one who  claimed to see everything clearly or the one who claimed to be blitzed?

3. Reader R. Lee, who made a good but imperfect case of guilt, finished by boldly claiming "Case closed."

And so finally, blissfully, Reader Lee's "case closed" assertion leads me to the point with which I choose to close this series.

Those who favor the death penalty and those who want to believe we have never executed an innocent person must always be sure. For them, each and every case in the past and in the future must always be "Case closed." If they ever allow themselves to believe that an innocent person has in fact been executed, they must then change their stand on the death penalty, or they must argue that it is acceptable to execute a few  (just a few, mind you) innocent people.

I'm not claiming that Reader Lee is a death penalty proponent. He makes clear elsewhere that he believes Davis should not have been executed. And I don't know if Reader Lee believes we have ever executed an innocent person. I will say, however, that I think his "Case closed" statement belies some wishful thinking.

Reader Lee is in good company, however. Charles Lane and Ann Coulter are also confident that Davis was guilty. For those two as well, the Davis case is closed.

For myself, I choose to remain skeptical.


Anonymous said...

Let us say what R Lee claims is correct, that the person who slapped Young on Young’s head did the shooting. But how do we know who slapped Young on his head?

There are only three men directly telling us who slapped Young:
Coles says that Davis slapped Young.
Davis says that Coles slapped Young.
Collins told police that he saw Davis slap Young (he then recanted this part in his affidavit).

Young is the only other person who tells that he argued with one man and the other man slapped him (Young also recants his account in his affidavit as not being able to say anything for sure at that moment).

Who is telling the truth?

If (this is a big if) we give weight to the recantation, then we only have Davis’s word against that of Coles.

Now Coles says that when officer McPhail asked them to hold, he stopped in the middle of the parking lot and McPhail ran past him towards Davis.

Nobody at the crime scene agrees with this account.

Also, the invention of the shirt-swapping tale by Coles and his sister weeks after the murder also creates a question about his truthfulness.

So, do we know for sure who is telling the truth?

Anonymous said...

The more I look at this case, the more I see two things taking place.

One is that the young people must be fearful of Coles and not so fearful of Davis.

Second, once the police chose to go after Davis and not Coles, somehow things (miraculously) began to fall in place against Davis.

Thus we have Coles and his sister talk about the shirt-swapping

We have Jeffery Sams claiming that Coles placed his gun on the front seat of Ellison’s car before going to the pool room. He also says that Collins removed the gun from the car and hid it behind the bushes.

We have Sapp and Holmes telling the police that they heard Davis confess to them the day after the shooting.

We have the jailhouse snitch testifying that Davis confessed to him.

So, there is a pattern here that says that there was an effort going on to “build” a case against the selected target.

Collins is the key here who was with Coles and Davis and knows who did what, but he is totally discredited.

It is sad that someone was executed based on such murky details.

Anonymous said...

Oops! I should have said that it is sad that someone was executed despite the presence of such murky details.

tsj said...

Nicely argued.

Anonymous said...

"Or they must argue that it is acceptable to execute a few (just a few, mind you) innocent people."

That's not exactly a fair way to put it unless you add the appropriate qualification: "They must argue that it is acceptable to execute a few innocent people by mistake." They don't have to argue that it is acceptable to do it on purpose.

Note also that even if one is against the death penalty, one will still have to argue that it is acceptable to imprison innocent people for life, or for 20 years, or whatever, unless one is against punishment for crime in general.

tsj said...

I concede you stated the quandry more fairly than I did. I recognize as well that we must have a criminal justice system and that the system will make mistakes.

On the other hand, our criminal justice system is one of the few public safety issues that seems immune from review. Each and every aircraft accident is investigated to see if we can learn from the accident and improve the system. As a result, it is astoundingly safe to fly in a metal tube with more than a 100 other people at speeds in excess of 500 mph at altitudes where life can't survive unprotected for more than a minute or so.

On the other hand, we find case after case of wrongful conviction (based on DNA evidence) and we leave to private parties to campaign for changes.

Our government does not make the same effort to correct the problems in our criminal justice system as it does to fight what it perceives to be the danger of unpastuerized milk.

It's not that we keep making mistakes. It's that we keep making the same mistakes. As I result, I calculate that we have nearly a quarter million wrongfully behind bars today. If interested, search elsewhere in my blog for Rate of Wrongful Conviction.

Anonymous said...

I want to add one more comment: In her first statement to the police at 2:27 AM (less than two hours after the shooting), as described in the court document, Harriet Murray "heard one individual tell Mr. Young not to walk away and threaten to shoot him. The individual then started digging down his shirt. As the three individuals converged on Mr. Young, one produced a gun."

This tells us that the individual doing the talking and threatening to shoot Young must be the person having the gun. If Coles was doing the talking, he must have had the gun. Furthermore, I saw a court document in which Murray says that there were two other individuals with her who became scared and began to leave when they heard the talk of shooting. So, someone did threaten to shoot; that was the person doing the talking and must have the gun on him. I do not know why the police talk to those two individuals with Murray.


Anonymous said...

The last sentence should be "I do not know why the police did not talk to those two individuals with Murray."


tsj said...

Once again, AnonXYZ, nice observation regarding Harriet Murray's testimony.

You see the problem though. So many people said so many different things at different times, it allows police, jurors, bloggers, and commentors to pick and choose from those statements that best fit a desired outcome.

Anonymous said...

tsj: I completely and wholeheartedly agree with you that there is a problem with picking and choosing.

However, I am trying to follow the examples that you set to isolate those statements and facts that can stand on their own without being seriously challenged by other statements and acts that took place and help bring out the truth from the cacophony of things that went on. It is a challenge when our minds are already made up.

Before I came to your site, I was convinced that the state was right and all the objections were merely noise or as Judge Moore put it, “smoke and mirrors.” But after reading the material here, I became open to look at all the other possibilities.

I wish to compliment you on the high quality of analysis you provide here. Wish you all the best.

Anonymous said...

I must add another comment here that the tragic as well as alarming outcome of this case is that if we sent an innocent man to death, then the real killer is responsible for the death of two innocent men and is still free.

He did the first killing by himself, but the society might have helped him with the second killing! I shudder at that thought.

Anonymous said...

". . . so many different things at different times . . . allows . . . pick and choose."

That's a fine definition of reasonable doubt, and a poor justification for execution. Regardless of moral views on the subject, I think the vast majority would agree that execution without justification is random terrorism, not criminal justice.

Which is why your blog is so important.

I can pick and choose as well . . . and I have come to the conclusion that both Davis and Coles were lying through their teeth - trying to hang the jury to save themselves, and trying to protect Collins. The 16 year old. Who by his own admission and corroborating testimony, was the last person known to have touched a gun, mere minutes before the shooting occurred, was the last person to follow Young from the pool hall, took the route that passed by the hiding place of the gun, and would have "run forward", with Coles' gun in hand, when Coles threatened to shoot Young, then dug in his shorts, and realized he had left his gun behind.

The gun didn't misfire because it was a "rusty" old gun, it didn't fire at all because it was wielded by a 16 year old kid who hadn't yet made shooting people a way of life. A 16 year old kid who fumbled trying to conceal the weapon in his shorts before the approaching cop saw it. Unable to do so, a panicked 16 year old kid pulled the trigger - and realized he hadn't cocked the hammer, or flipped the safety. He managed to do so before the cop recognized, from 5-15 feet away, that there was a gun pointed at him, because McPhail never unsnapped his own gun.

Coles lawyered up and gave a statement identifying Davis as the only other option to himself. Collins had the unenviable choice of either 1) confessing his own guilt, or 2) pointing the finger away from himself and at the other guy who was least likely to kill him. Presumably, Davis was least likely to do so.

And even when he recanted to try and save Davis, Collins was still unwilling to outright name Coles as the shooter. Like Judge Moore saw, the lie recanted was limited, designed only to raise doubt, not reveal truth. Still, it should have been enough at trial to raise reasonable doubt, and without it Davis was certainly going to be convicted. Davis kept his own mouth shut and did not accuse Collins because Collins was his key to acquittal.

It is speculation, but it does not contradict the available evidence. I would like to know whether Collins is left handed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (11:09 AM): I am glad that you brought up Collins.

I had just short stopped of naming him when I said in my earlier comment that “Collins is the key here who was with Coles and Davis and knows who did what, but he is totally discredited.”

The reason I could not bring myself to name him outright is that it was claimed that the gun Coles said he placed on the front seat of Ellison’s car and which Collins was said to have removed from the car was chrome, but some witnesses reported that the gunman who hit Young had a brown gun. I thought Coles made up the story of him placing the gun in Ellison’s car just as I thought he made up the story of the shirt exchange.

Still, your speculation seems plausible, because it explains another part of the story. Murray and the two individuals with her heard someone threatening to shoot Young. Coles could have done the threatening, but did not have the gun with him, so he might not have struck Young.

Also, Coles produced a yellow shirt, but did not produce the gun. Why would it be difficult for him to produce the gun? Especially if that gun was not used in shooting, he could have handed it to the police. Could it be because it would incriminate him or could it be because Collins got rid of it?

This case keeps getting interesting.

Anonymous said...

AnonXYZ it does get more interesting because Collins supposedly said he put the gun somewhere. He said it was at the end of the pool hall supposedly. Remember there was another shooting that night where possibly multiple shots were fired at the car. So it's also possible that the gun that Coles gave the gun away which was used in the other shooting and the gun that shot Cooper was that gun and then the other gun used on the cop.

So really, the tragedy has been that the police should have charged Collins either way as an accomplice to at least one murder and possibly attempted murder.


A Lee said...
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A Lee said...
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A Lee said...

I am certainly pleased that TSJ thought so well of my analysis, choosing to both compliment it and critique it. And I hope he will continue to find my analysis worth putting into future posts, which will include an opinion of how I believe the whole night unfolded. Indeed, I'm quite surprised at the lack of thinking I see here, and you all may be surprised (ala Sherlock Holmes and Hercules Poirot) at my take on the events.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for those who like this stuff), I now find it necessary to critique TSJ's most current critique of my work.

I titled the comment as a 'Succinct Explanation' choosing to forego initially a much longer version I had composed on the same limited case elements considered. I will (if this domain allows such a long comment) post the longer version to the comments section.

But, first I want to have a go at the critique offered by TSJ. I hope TSJ will not be too offended if I note some serious hypocrisy on his part.

I mentioned that we have no real reason to doubt Antoine Williams veracity in describing what he saw that night, and that does not include identifying anyone by face or by clothing, but merely the movement of bodies. But, TSJ scoffed at my qualification of the witness as a serious flaw on my part.

That strikes me as disingenuous, and more of a need to force things to fit a desired outcome rather than an unbiased appraisal of evidence, which is a criticism TSJ, rightly, trumpets as a serious problem with investigations by the police.

The urge to force things to fit, gives way to seeing things that aren't there, which is ironic given the subject matter. For instance, here, even though I made no use of shirt identification in my case, TSJ attacks the credibility of a witness I relied upon for other testimony by contesting, even ridiculing, his ability to distinguish colors through his tinted car windows.

TSJ writes,"In his [Williams] second statement, he added that his window tint would not have prevented him from distinguishing yellow from white or blue. That's bullshit of course."

I fail to follow his linkage of that statement to bullshit, and since it must be obvious, as TSJ suggests "of course" it is, then I'm embarrassed to admit I don't understand.

But, TSJ's incredulous take on Mr. Williams began even with an earlier statement, the one he gave on the night of the shooting, where he had told the police that his car's tinted windows have a blue hue which makes white objects appear blue. He didn't say it exactly that way, instead saying that it was difficult to detect white from blue.

That sounds like a very reasonable and very honest statement. Yet, TSJ, without any clear explanation, states his skepticism and suggests it to be the first in a long string of dubious claims.

He closes his rather vitriolic spin on Mr. Williams with a another method used, intentionally or not, by those trying to make things fit, by fudging the facts. Supposedly quoting from Mr. Williams' 'recantation' affidavit, TSJ wrote, "In his recantation, he said his windows were so tinted he couldn't make out any colors." That is simply not an accurate statement.

Without quoting the whole of Mr. Williams post-trial affidavit, it is apparent 'on the face of it' that no such statement was made. If Mr. Williams could not detect ANY colors through the tint on his car windows, his driving would be drastically impaired.

[continued on next comment; apparently there is a word limit]

A Lee said...

[continued from above comment]

Beyond the misquotes and red herrings, TSJ uses two lines I put in the synopsis as bully clubs. The two lines were merely meant to bookend the short piece. They served as shorthand to indicate that, yes, there is a lot of testimony which leaves us scratching our heads trying to make sense of all of the events, but here is testimony which has grave credibility that by, and of, itself makes the case for Davis having shot MacPhail.

If TSJ, or the readers, then read my accompanying commentary on our legal/judicial system, he/you would have found a strident condemnation of that system, with an explicit call for a major revision of our laws to rid us of gamesmanship, of team against team, of the gross imbalance of playing the state's resources and influence against that of any one citizen, and of putting truth on a time schedule.

While I can narrow down this case to a few critical moments and testimony, sufficient to make a finding, I am of the belief that all the pieces of the puzzle should be made to fit.

I loathe the State of Georgia, my home state, they have done me many wrongs, including a wrongful conviction on a misdemeanor where the cop was vengeful (for an imagined wrong), took an opportunity to finger me as a 'suspicious person' and soon I was in handcuffs.

The Atlanta cop started her lies and they didn't stop growing, even while on the stand. No one stood up for me. And that came as no surprise, as I had wanted to get out of this state even before being attacked by the cop, and recall screaming in silence having just been put in the squad car, "This is WHY I want to get the f--k out of this place!"

My determination in the Davis case is not in anyway to justify the actions of the Savannah Police Department, The Chatham County prosecutors, the Georgia Court system, or those of the U.S. Court system. I find them all reprehensible.

I undertook an intense analysis of this case to determine whether or not my state was again doing what they do so well, screwing good people. In this case I believe we are simply lucky that it is not a truly innocent person which they incarcerated for 20 years and then put to death.

You should turn your attention to the thousands of cases where there is truly gross injustice, there are lots of them, and they don't show up in the media.

Still to come, the long version of my verdict determination in the Davis/MacPhail case and, after that, my thoughts on how that August Friday night in Savannah played out.


Anonymous said...

@AnonXYZ - re the gun. Some chrome plated .38 revolvers have brown grips. That could account for both eyewitness versions. Particularly if the pistol were held by the barrel during the act of striking the victim in the head. Shiny chrome could also reflect the light from the street lamp to create a "rusty" impression. Particularly if, the street lamps gave off that yellow-orange sodium vapor glow.

If the gun were a black barrel snub nose .38 - the type of gun Collins claimed he had seen in Davis' possession - well, let's just say that a short barrel, dark colored gun, in a dark colored hand, in a dark parking lot at night, is damn difficult to see well enough to identify. Unlike the Judge, I don't think a black barrel would be described as "shiny."

@ Mike - re the yellow shirt. I don't think there was one at the scene. Young was the only one to mention yellow the night of the shooting. I think Young was blitzed enough to fail to account for the yellow glow of the street lights. I think Coles was wearing white. When Coles got wind of Young's description, he magically invented the shirt swap story and produced the conveniently laundered yellow shirt.

@ RLee - One point about Williams, who I also largely credit as telling the truth in his initial statement (although I reject his identification of Davis). Williams' comments about the tint on his windows is only relevant if he was looking through the window. Yet he claims to have heard Young tell the others that he didn't want to fight anyone. It would be pretty hard to hear that if the windows were rolled up. He may have been watching through his windshield, but in that case, the tint would have little effect. Even in 1989, front windshields could not have that ultra dark tint allowed on the side and rear windows.

His even raising the issues suggests that he saw someone wearing blue, but wasn't sure which of the three it was.

So that leaves Coles in white (based on Young's confusion), the shooter in white (everyone agrees) and someone in blue (one of the AF guys said the figure running away was in "black" outfit).

Davis never attempted to establish what color shirt he was wearing in the parking lot. To me, that is the biggest mark against him. It suggests he was wearing white and unable to establish otherwise. But that doesn't relieve the State of the burden of proving it and with no credible eyewitness identification, they can't put Davis in the white shirt.

Anonymous said...

Mike: Great observations. Since you have considerable knowledge of guns, let me ask you a question out of my ignorance of guns. It is said that one gunman fired several shots at the car in Cloverdale. Witnesses also say that four shots were fired at officer McPhail.

How many bullets does a gun hold? Do the gunmen carry extra bullets with them? Is that easy to do?

If the same gunman did the shooting at the two places with the same gun, did he reload the gun in between?

I still cannot understand why Coles could not produce the gun he gave to someone for “safekeeping.” Did the police search for that gun near the pool room? Did they ask Collins, who allegedly hid the gun, to produce the gun?

Also, they found several casings at the Cloverdale scene, but none at the BK parking lot! I mean they must be swarming there after receiving the 911 call and they could not find even one of the four casings! Some homeless man “found” one casing several days later at the BK parking lot. It seems rather strange to me. Did someone “plant” that one casing at the BK parking lot?

Simple questions!


Anonymous said...

My last comment is also directed at "Anonymous 5:48AM."

Anonymous said...

I meant "Anonymous 4:48 AM." I better get some coffee in my system!

Anonymous said...

Generally a revolver holds 6-8 rounds. You can easily carry additional rounds, but if you don't bother with a holster, I doubt you carry backup ammo. ;)

The argument is that someone did plant the casing that was found near the BK parking lot. Without it, there was no definitive link between the two shootings. The bullets and other casings recovered from the two sites may or may not have been fired from the same weapon.

It was 5 days after the murder that Coles finally got around to admitting he had the gun at the pool hall. I don't know if the police bothered to look for it, but after 5 days, I'm sure someone had already retrieved it.

Anonymous said...

I think the strongest argument would be the shell casings and I hard a hard time finding much info from it in the case because I don't have the transcripts. Did the defense argue the case of why only one casing and did the defense object to the one casing for unable to know how it got into police hands?

other anonymous You forgot that Young identified Coles and said he wasn't the one that hit him but didn't see the murder. Also I think that Coles turned in the yellow shirt the next day. So he would have had to go to the police the night of the shooting and ask what everyone saw and then figure out what shirt he needed to find and bring to the police. He was taking a big risk going to the police that if he knew he was the shooter that none of the witnesses could id him.


tsj said...

A reminder. Coles said nothing about the shirt in his first or second statement. In fact, Coles first documented statement about the shirt comes 19 days after the shooting, at the preliminary hearing for Davis.

Coles did not turn the shirt in. His sister turned the shirt in. We're not sure when she did that. 12 days after the shooting, she gave the police the first statement ever documented about the shirt swap.

As for the chrome plated gun, there were odd stories abounding for that as well. Why would one automatically believe it was chrome plated rather than dark colored?

Anonymous said...

Except tsj Mr Young identified to the police that the man he was arguing with was wearing a yellow shirt and jammers. He also said the second guy was wearing white. Mr Young also went on to identify the guy in yellow as Mr Coles. So if Mr Coles was wearing white he would have walked into a hornet's nest. Also Ms Murray identified both. So you have two people who identified Coles as being in a yellow shirt.


tsj said...

I'm well aware of that. You seem to have not read of the problems with their testimony, or you are not concerned about the problems with their testimony.

Given that DNA exonerations show eyewitness testimony to be far and away the evidence most likely to lead to wrongful convictions, I tend to evaluate eyewitness testimony based on the ability of the person to actually see and remember what was happening, how the eyewitness story might have been influenced by internal bias and external pressures, whether or not the testimony was consistent over time, whether or not it is consistent with other eyewitness testimony, and whether or not it is consistent with other non-testimonial evidence.

I do not perceive eyewitness testimony to be infallible or even the best type of evidence. Furthermore, I note that it is the most poorly preserved type of evidence. Police don't actually record what people say, they make notes about what they think people said. That really bugs me. Such behavior would never be allowed with DNA, or ballistics, or fingerprinting. "I didn't preserve the evidence, but trust me, here's what it said."

Anonymous said...

Mike: As tsj pointed out, Valery Gordon mentioned for the first time on September 1 that she washed the yellow shirt the day after the shooting, but gave it to the police “later.” We don’t know when, but it must be after September 1. There is no mention of Coles wearing a yellow shirt before that time.

What is interesting here is how this pattern continues. Coles mentions to the Police on August 19 at 852 pm that he saw Davis with a black, short barreled gun with a brown handle in the pool room; two hours later, at 1130 pm that night, Collins tells the police that Davis had a black gun with a brown handle at Cloverdale.

Initially, Coles, Collins and Sams do not mention anything about Coles’s gun. But then on August 24, Coles tells the police that he gave a chrome, long barreled gun to Sams (or placed it on the front seat of Ellison’s car) before going to the pool room. Then Sams tells the police that Coles placed a “shiny” gun on the car seat and Collins says Coles placed a chrome gun with a brown handle on the car seat.

Then a single bullet casing turns up at the BK parking lot.

In hindsight, if I wear a juror, I would have thought that there was reasonable doubt in my mind about the case.

And, if I wear the prosecutor, I would have tried all three of these “thugs” for being “responsible” for assaulting Young and the death of officer McPhail. That way all three would have been subject to prison terms and the society would have been safer from having such individuals locked up instead of devoting all the state’s resources to go after one individual.

Anonymous said...

It is Valerie Gordon and it should be "If I were the prosecutor."


Anonymous said...

The evidence against Coles is very weak and the charge of assault would be very weak too. They would have to get Collins to roll on Coles and then have the jury believe it, don't think it would happen.

The yellow shirt would play a much bigger role after ward, not immediately. Yes the cops could have been more skeptical but you have Young saying that he was followed by a guy in yellow and then hit by a guy in white confirmed, by the witnesses that night who said the guy in white was the gunmen. You then have Young come into the police station and say, "yep, Coles hit me and he was in yellow" So what purpose did the cops have of getting the yellow shirt at that time? Not much. Only later when they wanted to confirm the story they would have asked for it and by then it's too late.

They shouldn't have let Collins go, he was an accessory to one murder and possibly another attempted murder.

And I looked at the witness testimony, they differences that I could find was the hat and it's color though each of them identified Davis.

The moral of this crime and others suck as Mr Willingham, don't look guilty. The case they put together at the re-trial was incredible weak and if Davis really wanted to prove his innocence he needed to hammer Coles and get up there on the stand and could discuss how he didn't shoot the cop but it was a three man coverup.


Anonymous said...

what I still don't get is this : "At the time of shooting the Burger King was closed and its exterior lights were turned off. According to Leo Bishop, Burger King’s manager, there was enough light so that “you’re not going to walk into anything or trip over anything.” But it was too dark for Bishop to recognize the familiar officer in the parking lot until Bishop moved close enough (10-15 feet away) and could see MacPhail’s uniform. The shooting occurred in “the worst area in the parking lot,” as the only source of light – a street light on the corner - was blocked by a large tree located directly underneath it. According to Young, “I couldn’t see, you, it was just dark, right the particular spot we were standing.”

why so much agonising over shirt colours when it seems to have been far too dark to distinguish?

A Lee said...

While I am still putting all the pieces of that night together for my 'full story' I wanted to read some more comments, and I was surprised to see a couple of points, at last made, which I'd planned on including in my story on that night.

Anon, and I know not which Anon, stated, "re the yellow shirt. I don't think there was one at the scene." BRAVO. You are the first person I've seen recognize that real possibility. While everyone is assuming a yellow and white shirt, and spending all of their time arguing as to who was wearing which, I decided long ago that there may likely have been no yellow (or at least all yellow) shirt. Both Coles and Davis mostly likely had on white or light colored shirts.

Another point raised by that Anon or another one, which I've yet to see anyone else point out was about the shell casings at the BK. How is it possible that the shell casings were not recovered from a virtually empty parking lot where a policeman has just been killed? It is not possible.

So, Congrats, Anon or Anons, whoever you may be.

Even with those two revelations though I am still reasonably confident in my verdict of guilty, however, as I stated before I never would have voted guilty at the original trial without having the opportunity to question the witnesses myself.


Anonymous said...

I don't believe the transcripts are available online.

fwiw, according to Judge Moore's opinion, Young originally identified Davis as the man he was arguing with, i.e., the man in the "yellow" shirt. It was only after he saw Coles at the police station (????) that he changed his mind.

Young is obviously very confused about who is who and who wore what - and he said as much in his recantation.

This anonymous posting gets confusing fast, I apologize for not doing so earlier, but I'll be anonymous J from now on.

Anonymous said...

does anyone - even those persuaded of Davis' guilt feel that this statement has been fulfilled?

Anonymous said...

The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, in granting a stay of execution in 2007, wrote that it “will not allow an execution to proceed in this state unless ... there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.”

Anonymous said...

This is AnonXYZ writing.

I am eager to see R Lee’s “final” report.

While we wait for it, let us suppose that because of the darkness, as someone just pointed out, the reliability of what the “eyewitnesses” were seeing is somewhat questionable.

However, the darkness should not diminish the ability of the “ear-witnesses” to hear.

So, what did the "ear-witnesses" hear?

We know that Harriet Murray and the two individuals with her heard someone threaten to shoot Young. This account has not been challenged (yet) by anyone. This threat is likely to be true because, according to Murray, the two individuals with her got scared and started to leave the area.

We have Coles testify that he did not threaten to shoot anybody. However, Coles does not deny arguing with Young.

We have Davis testify that he did not say anything to Young.

We do not know if Collins said anything to Young.

Do we trust everything that Coles says? If we do not believe everything Coles says, then we can say that if Coles was doing the talking, it is likely that he also threatened to shoot Young. If he threatened to shoot, he is likely to have a gun on him.

If we think Coles is telling the truth, then the story about him placing the gun in Ellison’s car could also be true. Which means that, Collins, who took that gun to hide behind the bushes, must have the gun. Coles is then trying to protect Collins.

Let us hear your argument for or against the ear-witnesses!


tsj said...

I suspect the Davis jury did not discuss and debate the evidence anywhere near as thoroughly and thoughfully as the commentors here have done.

Imagine though that the commentors had to reach a unanimous Guilty or Not Guilty verdict, or the case would simply be turned over to the next jury who might vote without debate and thought.

How do you achieve unanimity among people who are passionate about their differnig positions?

Anonymous said...

tsj, I also sat on a criminal jury once. I'm an attorney now, so I probably never will again be seated as a juror, but I did have that one experience.

It was a sex assault case. There was no physical evidence, and there were no witnesses. Everyone was drunk and passed out. Her word against his, and he (an illegal alien) didn't testify in his own defense.

She made one incredible allegation during her testimony that destroyed any ability to take her at her word.

Except for the old black guy who knew better (and would have hung the jury if necessary), my fellow jurors were nevertheless willing to convict because they empathized with the victim and the defendant was an illegal alien. Something happened. It must have. They were willing to accept as true the only explanation that was offered.

It took about an hour to convince them otherwise. It literally came down to getting them all to understand that it truly is better to let a guilty man go free than to risk imprisoning an innocent man. It came down to asking them how they would feel if their son was convicted under similar circumstances. We unanimously voted not guilty, but many of us left that courthouse feeling queasy. Many of us believed he was guilty.

I think most wrongful convictions stem from the jury's inability to accept that they may not be able to discern the truth, that they may not be able to come up with a definitive answer. They internalize doubt as some kind of personal failure on their part, and they can't allow their personal failure to derail the system, so they convict.


Anonymous said...

Is there any way to obtain the police reports from that night? Because that would settle the debate about a yellow shirt that at least Young saw. There was several mentions in the trial to statements that were signed by witnesses and even the recentations years later that said they didn't read what they signed but it was brought up again in the court. So if they had reports with signatures then it would confirm that people that night thought they saw yellow. Also, when Coles came into the station, that would be one identifying feature that would put the investigating cops into believing him.

As far as voice recognition, it would be worse using that than visual identification.


Anonymous said...

AnonXYZ writing...
Before R Lee makes his case, let me try to apply Occam’s razor, which is a principle that says that the explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.

The three closest eyewitnesses to the shooting are the three suspects: Davis, Coles, and Collins. What do they say about what they saw?

It is amazing, but none of these men saw the actual shooting!

Obviously, all three are lying.

Why are they lying? They are lying because they can claim that they were running away from the scene and therefore could not see the shooting. Thus the lying provides them cover that they were fleeing and they don't have to accuse anyone.

What do the other important eyewitnesses agree upon?

They agree that the man who slapped Young also shot officer McPhail.

The question is: who slapped Young?

Let us see what the above three men closest to the action say: Davis says that Coles slapped Young; Coles says that Davis slapped Young. Collins says that Davis slapped Young (he did not recant this claim).

Why are they not saying that they did not see the slapping?

It is because the slapping occurred before they were fleeing and each one of them knows that he cannot say that he did not see it because he was fleeing. Nobody would believe that lie. So, each had to say who he saw slapping Young.

Since nobody accused Collins of shooting, let us look at what he says about slapping. Although he did claim that the police coerced him to say that Davis was the shooter at Cloverdale and he recanted the claim at the trial, Collins never claimed at the trial that the police pressured him to say that Davis slapped Young. Also he did not recant that claim.

Since Collins talked to the police two hours after Coles had gone to them, it is possible that Coles could have threatened Collins to point the finger at Davis. But if Collins felt pressured to lie for Cole, why would he lie partially and not go all the way and say that he saw Davis shoot the officer?

And, when Collins started wavering about his claims about Davis at the trial, why did he not come out openly to say that he saw Coles shoot the officer?

It seems that the partial recantation of Collins reinforced the case against Davis in the Juror's mind as well as Judge Moore's mind.

And we have yet to come up with a convincing way to explain the strange actions of Collins.

A Lee said...

For those interested in reading the longer version of my verdict determination, I've posted it in the comments section of TSJ's poll post. The Succinct version is above in this post, and also in the comments section of the TSJ post for Sept. 25.

I felt it necessary to put out there the longer version which I wrote before the short version above. The longer version gives some rationale for the testimony I relied upon with a brief discussion of memory retention and recall.

Also, The Whole Story, which I've promised, and which you'll find quite interesting, will be posted either to the 'poll' post comments section or to the most recent TSJ post on the Davis case.


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