By Laura Kagel, Georgia Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International USA
The evidentiary hearing in the Troy Davis case ended on a somber note today, as everyone in the courtroom was aware that a matter of life and death was being decided. The judge will be asking the lawyers on both sides to address points of law that are still unresolved, including what standard of proof applies–in other words, what does “clearly establish his innocence” mean in terms of the evidence brought forward? In his closing remarks, Judge Moore promised not to delay, but cautioned that a ruling would not be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks.
When he thought lawyers on both sides were addressing settled issues, the judge showed his impatience, and he seemed sincerely interested in cutting to the core of the matter. Probably it will take some time for him to decide how to weigh the evidence he has heard, and in effect to decide what the core of the matter really is.
Today the defense team poked lots of holes in the prosecution’s theory linking the pool party shooting earlier in the day with the murder of Officer MacPhail, and showed that witnesses had varying descriptions of the shooters clothing in both crimes.
The State called numerous police department witnesses to underscore that police procedure had been followed in the investigation, but on cross-examination by Troy Davis’ legal team the police investigators and their supervisor were unable to produce a convincing explanation for not treating Sylvester Coles as a suspect and even including him in a reenactment of the crime which exposed him to information about the police investigation. Coles’ admission that he was at the scene of the crime, harassed the man who was hit in the head with a gun that night and had a gun on the night of the murder, would seem to raise red flags. These obvious deficiencies in the investigation could not really be wiped away by the assertion by police and the original prosecution team witnesses that procedure was followed.
The judge made it clear that Coles should have been called as a witness if the Davis team wanted to bring in Quianna Glover’s testimony that Coles confessed to the murder. The attorneys may have felt not only that Coles’ self-serving testimony against Davis would not advance his cause in this hearing, but also that the rules of evidence in the hearing had been relaxed enough to let in Glover’s testimony. Sadly, this piece of the puzzle will get left out.
Could a man be executed in the state of Georgia, because what would seem to be an obvious suspect was allowed to determine the direction of the investigation? At the end of the hearing, the impression that the State has no solid evidence against Troy Davis has been strengthened. The State does not need to reargue its case, however. It just needs to show that the Defense’s burden of proof has not been met. We are all anxiously awaiting his interpretation of that burden.
Laura Kagel is the State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Georgia for Amnesty International USA. She is currently in Savannah to observe Troy Davis’ evidentiary hearing.