This morning, the U.S. District Court judge who heard two days of evidence in the Troy Davis case as ordered by the Supreme Court ruled that Davis’ team had not demonstrated his actual innocence or his entitlement to a new trial.  This is probably the end of the line for Davis, as Judge William T. Moore sent a copy of his order directly to the Supreme Court, who now can dismiss Davis’ direct habeas corpus petition and allow his execution to proceed.

As devastating as this news is (and make no mistake, it is almost certain now that Davis will be executed by the state of Georgia within the next year) it is not terribly unexpected.  Actual innocence claims are nearly impossible to prevail upon without DNA evidence  (which is lacking in this case), and Davis’ team made the strategic decision NOT to subpoena Sylvester “Redd” Coles, the so-called “real killer” of Officer Mark McPhail, for the evidentiary hearing. Presumably they figured Coles would testify that he hadn’t shot McPhail and Davis had, and his testimony alone would be enough to support the original conviction.  However, several of the other recanting witnesses have since identified Coles as the likely killer, but the judge ruled at the hearing that he would not allow evidence or testimony that Coles had admitted to being the shooter because Coles had not been given the opportunity to refute it through live testimony. At that moment, the die was probably cast because without a “real killer,” and with Coles’ testimony at trial remaining un-contradicted, it was enough to support the conviction.

Though it will be small solace to the many who believe Davis is innocent and that our state has no business executing someone we are not absolutely certain is guilty of murder, Davis did get an evidentiary hearing and an opportunity to present the testimony of the recanting witnesses in open court.  Unfortunately, the judge to whom such evidence was presented concluded that “[u]ltimately, while Mr. Davis’ new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors…The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value.’’ The evidence needed to be clear and convincing that Davis was innocent and should not have been convicted of the crime of murder by any reasonable jury, and that wasn’t what was presented to Judge Moore.

And now, this sad tale will probably come to a very sad but inevitable close at the hands of the state of Georgia.


6 Responses to The end of the line for Troy Davis?

  1. JMPrince says:

    I think he looked askance at most of them, for one reason or another, according to local reports Tim.

    Since all the legal eagles are here I thought I’d offer this, as it’s one of my obsessions:

    July 18th for the Empirical Legal Studies Blog:

    ‘How the “Cravath System” Created the Bi-Modal Distribution’ (in the distribution of income for lawyers). One mode is about 62K the other was at about 150K in 2006. And yes, everything else is more or less as expected as far as practice areas etc. But a nice article about it all & a not uncommon phenomenon for other white collar specialty services too. JMP

  2. Tim Cairl says:

    The judges ruling also mentions that the recantments aren’t actually recantments, what is that all about?

  3. Sara says:

    An addendum to this post (not sure if it is accurate so I didn’t want to revise the post itself): Amnesty International is apparently under the impression that Davis can appeal this ruling to the 11th Circuit. While that would normally be true for a habeas petition that was filed in the district court and denied, the unique procedural posture of this case makes me doubt it. The habeas petition was filed DIRECTLY with the Supreme Court, and they are the ones who referred the case to the district court for an evidentiary hearing, with findings to be reported back to SCOTUS. So, I’m not sure if they will await the appellate process through the 11th circuit or just take action on their own to dismiss/deny the habeas petition now.

    If an appeal to the 11th circuit is allowed, it’s still probably nothing more than delaying the inevitable. Because the trial court judge heard the testimony of the witnesses and reviewed the evidence, he is in the best position to judge the weight of that evidence and his decision will be granted considerable discretion. Davis’ team probably needs to show that he misapplied the law in some key way–perhaps his ruling to keep out evidence of Coles’ guilt. But short of a pretty obvious error of that sort, I doubt the 11th will do Davis any favors. And then this will end up at SCOTUS anyhow, and they will probably deny certiorari. And then the execution will be set by the state of Georgia once again.

    • Jen B. says:

      Davis’ team probably needs to show that he misapplied the law in some key way–perhaps his ruling to keep out evidence of Coles’ guilt.

      I thought that ruling was extremely suspect when I read it in the AJC, but I’m not sure what the objection was based on. If the eyewitness will testify that he/she saw Coles shoot the officer, then what’s the objection? If, on the other hand, the eyewitness was going to testify that Coles told him/her that he shot the officer, then yes.. they have hearsay issues if they’re not calling Coles to testify.

      • Sara says:

        Yeah, he didn’t make it clear if he was ruling it was hearsay or just some sort of concept of fairness that they couldn’t blame it all on Coles and yet not call him to testify. I think some of the witnesses were going to say Coles had told them he’d killed McPhail, while others had said they saw him and not Davis at the scene of the crime. So it was probably a mixed bag of some hearsay and some eyewitness observations.

        • Jen B. says:

          “…just some sort of concept of fairness that they couldn’t blame it all on Coles and yet not call him to testify.

          That’s complete bullshit, if true. Maybe this judge has watched too many episodes of The Practice and thought Davis was trying to “Plan B” him. For the uninformed, “Plan B involves creating doubt with the jury as to their client’s guilt by accusing a third, usually innocent party of the crime in order to plant the seed of reasonable doubt.”