Friday, September 16, 2011

The Yellow and White Case of Troy Anthony Davis: Part 1

Troy Anthony Davis has been on Georgia's death row since 1991. After an extraordinary appellate battle, he sits there now awaiting execution by the people of Georgia on 21 September 2011.

Davis has always maintained his innocence and has long garnered worldwide attention. He has achieved a celebrity status few people would envy. At the heart of his defense is that seven of the ten witnesses responsible for identifying him as the man who killed Officer Mark MacPhail have recanted or contradicted their trial testimony.

This case is, quite bluntly, a mess. When I search for "Troy Anthony Davis" in Google (including the quotes), I get 400,000 hits. When I include the word innocent in my search, I get 169,000 hits. I haven't had time to go through them all.

I have, however, read enough to realize that this case is, quite bluntly, a mess. It has one dead cop, and a lot of live cops eager to get the killer. It has more eyewitnesses, most of them crappy, than you can shake a stick at. It has alleged confessions galore, both by Davis and the man Davis claims is the real killer. It has charges of police coercion and intimidation. These charges can't be proven or disproven because the police didn't record a single interview, as best I can tell. The case has two other shootings in the same area on the same night. The case has a plethora of guns changing hands, moving around and disappearing. The case has more appellate decisions than any other case I am aware of.

The case even has the requisite snitch.

What the case doesn't have is any physical evidence that can put it to rest. This case hinged on (and will always hinge on) eye-witness testimony. The eye-witnesses are a motley collection of people with motive to lie, people with vision problems, people who claim they were intimidated, and people who obviously perjured themselves.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, is two-fold. First, I must present this case in a unique, understandable fashion. (That's redundant. If my presentation is understandable, it will be unique.) Second, I must assess whether Troy Anthony Davis might be factually innocent of the crime for which he is now likely to die.

To fulfill the task before me, I will strip the case to its bones. I will ignore the recantations. I will ignore the testimony from the trial and from the preliminary hearing. I will ignore all statements made (or coerced) after Sylvester "Red" Coles walked into the police station and launched a frenzied manhunt / investigation by telling them that he saw Troy Anthony Davis shoot and kill Officer MacPhail.

I will ignore any eye-witness identification not made on the first opportunity. (That's pretty much all of them.)

I will ignore the other shootings that night, though a casing found at the MacPhail shooting matched casings found at one of the other shootings.

I will ignore all alleged confessions.

I will ignore the statements of people who may have a bias for or against Troy Davis, who may have a bias for or against Sylvester Coles.

I will ignore the snitch.

I will make a few exceptions. I will consider the statements and testimony of Troy Anthony Davis and Sylvester "Red" Coles. One of those two people killed officer MacPhail. I will also consider the statements and testimony of Sylvester's sister. She will be the key to figuring out who the murderer most likely is.

By doing this, I will simplify the case enormously. More importantly, I will be able to consider the evidence the police had to work with when they decided to pin the rap on Davis. We'll see if they got it right.

Sources
I rely primarily on two documents. For the State's case, I rely on the 172 page, August 2010 decision prepared by Judge William T. Moore, Jr. of the United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia, here and here. Judge Moore was instructed by the U.S. Supreme Court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to consider all of Davis' claims of innocence and decide for the people of the United States whether Troy Anthony Davis has established his innocence. Judge Moore concluded his thorough and thoughtful opinion with the following:
Before the Court is Petitioner Troy Anthony Davis's Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Pursuant to the order of the Supreme Court, this Court has held a hearing and now determines this petition. For the above stated reasons, this Court concludes that executing an innocent person would violate the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, Mr. Davis is not innocent: the evidence produced at the hearing on the merits of Mr. Davis's claim of actual innocence and a complete review of the record in this case does not require the reversal of the jury's judgment that Troy Anthony Davis murdered City of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail on August 19, 1989.
In a footnote, Judge Moore made clear that he did not think it was a difficult decision or a close call.
The Court further notes that whether it adopted the lower burden proposed by Mr. Davis, or even the lowest imaginable burden from Schlup, Mr. Davis's showing would have satisfied neither.
For the defendant's case, I rely on a 39 page summary prepared by Amnesty International in February 2007. From their introduction, I offer:
Troy Anthony Davis has been on death row in Georgia for more than 15 years for the murder of a police officer he maintains he did not commit. Given that all but three of the witnesses who testified against Troy Davis at his trial have since recanted or contradicted their testimony amidst allegations that some of it had been made under police duress, there are serious and as yet unanswered questions surrounding the reliability of his conviction and the state’s conduct in obtaining it. As the case currently stands, the government’s pursuit of the death penalty contravenes international safeguards which prohibit the execution of anyone whose guilt is not based on "clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts".
Amnesty International does not know if Troy Davis is guilty or innocent of the crime for which he is facing execution. As an abolitionist organization, it opposes his death sentence either way. It nevertheless believes that this is one in a long line of cases in the USA that should give even ardent supporters of the death penalty pause for thought.
Crime Scene
The shooting took place on August 19, 1989 in Savannah, Georgia near the intersection of Oglethorpe and Fahm.  Courtesy of Bill Gates and the fine folks at Bing, I present a bird's eye view of the area below.  The annotations are mine. Click on the image to embiggen.
For the anal retentive cartologists out there, north is to the left.

The shooting took place in the Burger King parking lot. The Burger King was in the same building as the bus station. The Burger King had a drive-through window.

Two homeless people, boyfriend / girlfriend, were drinking beer in the Burger King parking lot. I'm not sure exactly where in the parking lot, but it seems as if they were sitting near the front corner of the building near Oglethorpe. They ran out of beer, so the homeless gentleman walked down to the convenience store to buy some more. The trouble began when he left the convenience store and tried to walk back to the Burger King with his beer.

How it Went Down: Scene 1
In the following scenes, I have zoomed in on the crime scene area somewhat, and introduced the key players as colored circles. The red circle is the homeless gentleman. His name is Larry Young. I've colored him red because he will soon be bleeding.
The yellow circle is either Troy Davis or Sylvester Coles. He is colored yellow because he wore a yellow shirt.

The white circle is either Troy Davis or Sylvester Coles. He is colored white because he wore a white shirt.

Once we figure out who was wearing the white shirt, we will know who murdered Officer MacPhail. Though this case seems to consist of nothing but confusion, most everyone who saw the crime agrees that the person in the white shirt shot and killed Officer MacPhail.

Troy Davis and Sylvester Coles were similar in height and weight. Davis had slightly darker skin than did Coles. At night, under stressful conditions, when things were happening quickly, it would be difficult to distinguish between the two of them by their physical attributes. They were distinguished instead by their clothing. One, the killer, wore a white T-shirt with a Batman logo. The other wore a more brightly colored shirt, probably yellow.

In Scene 1, Larry Young is returning to Burger King with his newly purchased beers. Yellow Shirt is close behind. Yellow Shirt asked for one of the beers, but Young declined. Now Yellow Shirt is tailing Young, harassing him, intimidating him.

White Shirt is with Yellow Shirt. He is walking parallel to the other two, cutting through the bank parking lot.

How it Went Down: Scene 2
As Larry Young arrives in the Burger King parking lot, Yellow Shirt is close behind, almost along side, still baggin' on him, now threatening to shoot him.  White Shirt has fallen in behind Young, to his right. He is saying nothing.
Somewhere still out of sight is Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail. He is behind the bus depot, unaware that he has but a minute to live. Though he is off duty and working a second job as a security officer, he is in full police uniform. I have therefore colored him blue.

How it Went Down: Scene 3
Suddenly, White Shirt strikes Larry Young from behind, above the right eye, possibly with a gun.  Larry Young screams out for help, and runs for shelter at the drive through window. A van is there, filled with Air Force types.
Officer MacPhail hears the screams and rushes to help, baton in hand, pistol in holster. Yellow Shirt runs away. White Shirt stands his ground.

How it Went Down: Scene 4
Larry Young makes his way to the front of the Burger King. White Shirt shoots Officer MacPhail in the face. Officer MacPhail goes down.
White Shirt steps over to Officer MacPhail and shoots him twice more. White Shirt runs away down Oglethorpe Avenue.

To Be Continued
Tomorrow, in Part 2 of X parts, we'll hear from the witnesses themselves.

6 comments:

Joachim K├╝bler said...

Maybe you're interested in the updated ai Report on Troy Davis' case from 2009: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B980Z62SKY-TODA3YzM5ZjgtY2I5ZS00ODcyLTgyODQtN2UzMGIzY2ZkZjRm&hl=de

Greetings,

Joachim

tsj said...

Joachim,
Thanks for the link. It turns out not to be much different in substance than their 2007 report, given that no new recantations / contradictions had occurred.

Anonymous said...

The thing that clinches it for me is that the shooter was clearly wearing the white shirt, not the yellow shirt. The police took the statement of the cloverdale shooting and he said at the time (before the police were even aware of the later murder) that the shooter was wearing a white batman shirt with black hat and shorts. All of the eye witnesses identified this person as the shooter in the MacPhail murder. The matching shell casings seal the deal. Davis did it.

Anonymous said...

In a store robbery if there are 3 robbers yet only one of them has a gun, they all are charged with "armed robbery" even if the gun is not fired. They all are charged with "murder" if the one partner in crime murders the store clerk
Some say that the INJUSTICE is in the unjust incarceration of Troy Davis.
The facts are clear - the INJUSTICE is that Sylvester "Redd" Coles is not ALSO incarcerated and charged with murder.

My view is that both Troy Davis and Sylvester "Redd" Coles should be charged with murder but given a life sentence without chance of parole.

Irrev. Lynn said...

Three problems with this supposed shell casing evidence.
1. Independent lab testing prior to federal hearing showed results "inconclusive" -- it is impossible to say that they were from the same gun.
2. Years later, someone else confessed to the Cooper shooting. Cooper has maintained that he doesn't think Troy did it, and finally the person who DID it says Troy was not with him. So if there is a match is shell casings, it would prove that Troy did not kill MacPhail.
3. Scouring the scene through the night and into day, police found no shell casings at the site of MacPhail's murder. How is that someone "found" them more than 24 hours after the fact?

tsj said...

Irrev. Lynn,
I avoided the earlier and later shootings for two reasons. First I thought the tie-in between the three shootings was weak. Second, the MacPhail shooting was difficult enough to explain without trying to explain the relevance (or the lack thereof) of the earlier shootings.

I can see that you have put more research and more thought into the earlier Cooper shooting than I have. Thanks some insight I didn't have previously, and congratulations on your skepticism.

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