Monday, September 19, 2011

The Yellow and White Case of Troy Anthony Davis: Part 4

To determine whether it was Troy Davis or Sylvester Coles who shot and killed Officer MacPhail, I begin by looking at the timeline. I really like timelines; the more detailed the better. The very act of constructing a thorough timeline almost always brings revealing issues to light.

I'm not suggesting the short timeline segment that follows for the Troy Davis case is anywhere  near worthy of one that would be necessary for a thorough evaluation of his case. However, even the puny, under-researched timeline segment below will be informative. All times will be for August 19th, 1989 unless otherwise noted.

I extracted the timeline items from information I have already provided you in Parts 1, 2 and 3. You should read those posts first if you have already done so.

Buckle up. Here we go.

1:01 AM -- Van passenger Anthony Lolas hears gunshots

1:09 AM -- Savannah PD receives 911 call from employee at Thunderbird Inn reporting shooting

1:16 AM -- Coles arrives at his sister's house, assuming it took him 15 minutes to run there.

1:17 AM -- Coles takes off his yellow shirt and puts on another he kept at his sister's house. Sits on front porch.

1:42 AM -- Davis arrives at Coles' sister's house, without a shirt. Coles gives him the yellow shirt to put on.

1:42 AM -- Coles leaves his sister's house as Davis is putting on the yellow shirt. Coles is heading back to the crime scene.

2:12 AM -- Coles arrives back at crime scene. This assumes he took twice as long to walk back there as it took him to run from there.

2:27 AM -- Harriet Murray gives statement to SPD.

3:10 AM -- Larry Young gives statement to SPD.

3:22 AM -- Antoine Williams gives statement to SPD.

5:15 AM -- Stephen Sanders (van occupant) gives statement to SPD.

5:20 AM -- Anthony Lolas (van occupant) gives statement to SPD. Said shooting took place at 1:01 AM.

5:49 AM -- Matthew Hughes (van occupant) gives statement to SPD.

5:57 AM -- Eric Riggins (van occupant) gives statement to SPD.

6:10 AM -- Steven Hawkins (van occupant) gives statement to SPD.

?:?? PM -- Steven Sylvester Coles visits an attorney sometime in the afternoon.

8:52 PM -- Sylvester Coles goes to SPD, with his attorney, and gives a voluntary statement. He says nothing about changing shirts at his sister's house.

Aug 24, 1989 -- 5 days after the shooting. Coles gives a second statement to the police. He says nothing about changing shirts at his sister's house.

Sep 1, 1989 -- 12 days after the shooting. Coles' sister gives the police a statement about the changing of shirts at her house soon after the shooting.

Sep 8, 1989 -- 19 days after the shooting. Coles testifies at the preliminary hearing about changing shirts at his sister's house.

Aug 10, 1991 -- Two years after the shooting. Both Coles and his sister testify at the trial about Coles' changing his shirt at her house.

This is another case of: "First to talk, walks. Last to lie, dies." Sylvester Coles was the first to talk in this case. He fingered Troy Davis. Coles walked and Davis is going to die.

I came up with the phrase "First to talk, walks. Last to lie, dies." after noting the pattern in case after case of accomplice testimony. The police willfully, eagerly choose to believe the first person who rats out the other or others. The police then get a serious case of tunnel vision. They inflate any evidence that might prove Accomplice #2 guilty. They ignore any evidence that shows Accomplice #1 is lying or might have himself committed the crime. They become far more interested in convicting someone, anyone than in convicting the guilty one.

It's easier that way. Imagine the difficulty they would have had in this case if both Davis and Coles denied shooting Officer MacPhail.

In the Troy Davis case, I consider almost all the evidence the SPD collected after 8:52 PM on the day of the shooting to be tainted. After that time, the witnesses' vision and memory somehow became better and better as time went on. Though such temporal improvements are rare elsewhere, they are unfortunately all too common in police work.

Let's now consider each of the statements regarding the magical changing of the shirts.

1. Valerie Coles Gordon's police statement on September 1, 1989: Ms. Gordon informed the police that, in the early morning of August 19, 1989, she was sitting on her front porch when she heard gunshots. A few minutes later, Mr. Coles ran onto the front porch and sat down in a chair. He then informed his sister that he was not sure what was going on, but that there had been a shooting and he thought someone was trying to kill him. Mr. Coles changed out of his yellow t-shirt and into a red, white, and blue stripped collared shirt that Ms. Gordon retrieved for him. She then observed a shirtless Davis standing next to the porch, talking to her brother.  Her brother gave Davis the yellow t-shirt he had previously been wearing, which Mr. Davis then put on. A few minutes later, she observed Davis take off the yellow t-shirt, lay it just inside her front door, and exit the property.

2. Sylvester Coles' testimony at the preliminary hearing:
He ran from the scene to his sister's house. He been sitting on his sister's porch for 20 to 30 minutes when a shirtless Troy Davis approached and asked him for a shirt. He gave Davis the yellow t-shirt that he had been wearing earlier that night -- the only spare shirt he had on hand.

3. Sylvester Coles' trial testimony: He ran from the scene until he reached his sister's house. There he changed out of his yellow t-shirt. Approximately 20 to 30 minutes later, Davis appeared at the house. Davis was not wearing a shirt and asked for one to wear. He gave Davis the only other shirt he had at the house -- the yellow t-shirt he had been wearing earlier. He explained that he often kept clothes at his sister's house because he liked to change after playing basketball in that neighborhood.

4. Valerie Coles Gordon's trial testimony: She was sitting on her porch when she heard some gunshots. Approximately 15 to 20 minutes later, her brother ran onto the porch. He immediately slumped over, gasping for breath, causing her to think that he was hurt. Satisfied that he was uninjured, she went into the house and laid out three shirts for her brother to change into. She recalls her brother changing out of the yellow shirt he had been wearing into a blue, red, and white collared shirt. After changing shirts, her brother left the yellow shirt on the banister. A few minutes later, Davis came up to the porch, wearing dark shorts and no shirt. Her brother stepped outside to speak with Davis, eventually handing him the yellow shirt that Mr. Coles had previously been wearing. After handing the yellow shirt to Davis, her brother left. Davis put the shirt on, but quickly took it off and left it by her front door. She washed the shirt the next day, later giving it to the police.

Had I been a juror, claxons would have been blaring in my head when the first one of them testified about the shirt swap. It's a transparently bogus story. My thought would have been that they feared someone had seen Coles in a white shirt or Davis in a yellow shirt. Any such sighting would be evidence that Coles, not Davis, was the shooter. So they concocted the story about the shirt swap to create plausible deniability. "Sure, my brother wasn't wearing the yellow shirt after the shooting, because I gave him a fresh one."

When the second one of them testified about the shirt swap, I would have hit the ceiling. I would have known then, without doubt, that they were lying. Coles said at trial that he gave the yellow shirt to Davis because that was the only other shirt he had at the house. Well that was certainly unfortunate for Davis. Recall that Coles had just been running for 15 to 20 minutes all the way from the crime scene to his sister's house.

Then it would hit me as odd that Coles kept shirts at his sister's house so that he could change after playing basketball, but the only shirt that was at her house was a red, white, and blue collared shirt. Seems like a limited and odd collection. Perhaps, I might think, he had taken all the others home with him to wash them.

Nope, that wouldn't be it. His sister said she washed the shirts for him. Remember? She washed the yellow shirt the next day, before giving it to the police. One wouldn't any unsightly incriminating evidence left on the shirt. How embarassing!

The testimony that would have really done it for me, however, was when the sister said she laid out three shirts for her brother to change into. That's two more than her brother said were available. Why did Coles give Davis the sweaty, stinky t-shirt when he had just selected from a collection of three clean shirts his sister had laid out for him?

I would have been confident the accomplice was lying about the shirts, as was his sister. I would have been equally confident the prosecutor realized it too. Given that the State also wanted me to believe the snitch, and given that several witnesses had already explained how they got their identifications of Davis right only after several tries, I would have dismissed the prosecution team as untrustworthy. And that is a killer for them. If I don't trust them to be truthful with me, I won't accept that they ever prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

I would have voted Not Guilty. I am, after all, The Skeptical Juror.

I recognize, however, that I am a member of an exceptionally small community of like-minded individuals. Tomorrow, I'll explain why the actual jurors voted guilty, and why most of you would have as well.

Part 5 is now available