September 20th, 2011
09:21 PM ET

Prosecutor says he has no doubt about Troy Davis' guilt

For the Georgia prosecutor who put Troy Davis on trial in 1991 for killing a cop and won a conviction, there were two cases being fought.

"There is the legal case, the case in court, and the public relations case," Spencer Lawton, the former Chatham County prosecutor, said. "We have consistently won the case as it has been presented in court. We have consistently lost the case as it has been presented in the public realm, on TV and elsewhere."

Lawton spoke to CNN about the Davis case, his first interview on the case since Davis' initial trial, after the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for the death-row inmate on Tuesday.

Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of Savannah, Georgia, police officer Mark MacPhail. He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Wednesday at a state prison in Jackson, Georgia.

After he was sentenced to death, Davis' lawyers filed a federal court appeal insisting there was "no physical evidence linking" Davis to MacPhail’s murder. They called the testimony of a ballistics expert that shell casings from another shooting by Davis matched casings found at the murder scene an "unremarkable conclusion" since the murder weapon was not found.

"We believe that we've established substantial doubt in this case," Stephen Marsh, Davis' attorney, said at the time. "And given the level of doubt that exists in this case, we believe that an execution is simply not appropriate."

Thousands of influential dignitaries, including the pope, South Africa's Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter, as well as more than 600,000 people have signed a petition seeking to stop Davis' execution.

Lawton says he believes the outrage over the sentence resulted from a public relations campaign by Davis' supporters, while prosecutors remained silent outside the courtroom.

"It's just been my policy, that I not comment on a pending case - and this case has been pending for two decades," he said. "For two decades, I've maintained my silence. That meant I could never respond.

"So we have been at an extreme disadvantage in the public relations campaign for that reason, because we felt that we were ethically bound to maintain our silence and express our opinions and judgments on the facts in court, which is where we have. And every place we have, we have won."

Now that he can speak, since he considers the case officially closed with the parole board's ruling, he wants to clear the air about a few things.

He told CNN he has no doubt about Davis' guilt. He said he believes supporters have been misinformed about the facts of the case.

He said he believed that documents from early on in the trial were being "exploited" when supporters tried to cast doubt on physical evidence or said there was none.

Davis was convicted of the first, non-fatal, shooting in Savannah's Cloverdale neighborhood that night.  Lawton said there was confusion over evidence in the murder case because the shell casings from both shootings wound up in the same evidence bag.

"That confusion was subsequently resolved; it was resolved adequately at trial," he said. "Our problem, from the state's point of view, is the documents, which initially reflect the initial confusion, are still out there and are being exploited to that end."

Davis' supporters also have attacked the witness testimony in the murder trial as shoddy and pointed out that several witnesses, including some who had claimed that Davis told them he killed the officer, later recanted their testimony, in some case blaming pressure from police.

But Lawton said recanted statements don't deserve the validity they have been given in media accounts.  He said a judge ruled they were at the very least "suspect" because they were not given under oath and prosecutors never got the opportunity to cross-examine the recanting witnesses in court.

He also said the question of duress cuts both ways.

"I think that what you would find is there was as much duress applied to get the affidavits as the affidavits are said to contain allegations of duress on the part of police," he said.

And  Lawton question why it took Davis' lawyers 15 or 20 years to get these witnesses to recant and why they then waited until eight days before Davis' first scheduled execution to make these explosive statements public.

Lawton told CNN he believes "that the affidavits of recantation were of more value to the attorneys as a device for delay than they were valuable as a device for substantive argument."

Lawton said the lengthy nature of the case has helped rampant speculation override the facts.

"It has been a game of delay throughout. The longer the delay, the more time they have to create not doubt, not honest doubt, not real doubt, but the appearance of doubt," he said. "And there are people who have not troubled themselves to acquaint themselves with the record, who don't know the facts, who do oppose the death penalty and who have been willing on the strength of that emotion alone to assume the truth of the allegations of the weakness of evidence in the case."

Lawton said some people who are fully aware of the facts believe the death penalty doesn't fit the crime, and he understands how they've reached that conclusion.

Lawton questioned Pope Benedict XVI's interpretation of the intricacies of Georgia law.

"His holiness has expressed his objection to the death penalty in the case, although it's noteworthy he didn't constrain himself to the issue of morality of the death penalty - he went on to comment on the sufficiency of evidence in the case," Lawton said regarding the pope's recent comments. "This is not something I had previously thought the Holy See had expertise in, that is to say Georgia's evidentiary rules."

He also challenged the views of former FBI director and federal district judge William S. Sessions, and Bob Barr, a former federal prosecutor and Georgia congressman, who have said there is no credible physical evidence in the case.

"Their credibility is hanging on a falsehood," Lawton said. "They would know differently if they looked at the record."

As for President Carter's position that Davis should get life without parole because he was unfairly convicted based on the evidence, Lawton said:

"This is fuzzy thinking. This is what happens when you try a criminal case in the streets, when it becomes a public relations campaign," the former D.A. said. "When it's in a court, you get disciplined thinking. We've won every time the thinking has been disciplined."

Lawton said he doesn't feel Tuesday's ruling resulted in a "happy day for anyone."

"I have no brief for the death penalty. If it were to evaporate tomorrow, it would suit me fine," he said. "On the other hand, it is a part of, a component of, Georgia's law and that's what I was sworn to uphold."

Lawton said he's against mob justice of any kind.

"Would it be different if all these people were agitating to have someone executed? The criminal justice system should cow in the face of that kind of mob action? No, we would all say no," he said. "That's not the way the system is supposed to operate."

Post by:
Filed under: Courts • Crime • Death Penalty • Georgia • Justice
soundoff (1,145 Responses)
  1. morbus gravis

    truth #1
    None of the recantations listed by Davis supporters state that Davis did not murder Officer MacPhail.

    All but one of the “recants” state that the statements they gave at the time of the murder were typed up by the investigating officers after and during their interviews and that they signed them without reading them.

    What they fail to mention is that TWO YEARS later they testified in court that their statements were true.

    It has only happened several years after the conviction that they have spoken to members of Davis’ legal team, family and supporters that they NOW claim to have given false statements. It is transparently clear that the convicted murder’s supporters have manipulated these witnesses into saying they did not understand what they were saying during the investigation OR during the trial.

    Two of the original witnesses HAVE NOT RECANTED their testimony that named Troy Davis as the murderer. This has so angered Davis’ supporters that they are trying to name one of these witnesses (Coles) as the shooter.

    Coles was standing behind Officer MacPhail when MacPhail ran by chasing Davis. Davis turned and shot Officer from the front.

    Coles came back to the scene of the shooting with a female after police arrived.

    Davis changed clothes (even asking Coles for a shirt later) and fled to Atlanta with his sister.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Retspool

    The cops killed one of themselves and now they found a black man to pin the blame on.

    happens all over the world.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CBR

    The prosecutor is only stating the outcome of the trial. He does believe that Mr. Davis is guilty. The issue is not innocence or guilt. The issue taking the life another life in a "so-called legal" manner. People are writing to save this man from the death penalty which we oppose on all grounds.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • TiredODaCrap

      The is is most definitely innocence or guilt! If he is innocent, he must be let go. If he's guilty – and sentenced to die – it's time to carry out the sentence. Your feelings on whether you like or dislike the sentence mean NOTHING to the rest of us!

      September 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jim

    It's cheap justice 101, pin it on someone and that's it.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. morbus gravis

    Myth #2
    There was never any physical evidence tying Davis to the murder for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

    Truth #2
    A bullet that was removed from the jaw of a man who was shot by Troy Davis earlier in the day was compared to a bullet removed from Officer MacPhail. The ballistics matched!

    During the latest Pardons and Parole Board hearing a Georgia Bureau of Investigation ballistics expert was present to testify about this evidence.

    Bloody "spotted" clothing was removed from Davis’ house after he was named as a suspect. Because of the way Troy was standing above Officer MacPhail when he executed the officer he would have received a faint splatter of blood (because Officer MacPhail was on the ground most of the splatter would have been dispersed out along the ground and not upward).

    A DNA test was performed on this evidence several years after the shooting because this technology did not exist at the time of the murder. The blood was so degraded (due to time) and the spots so small that the test “consumed” the sample without results. The Prosecutors NOT Troy Davis asked for this test.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. morbus gravis

    Myth #3
    The verdict was an example of the racist court system in Chatham County Georgia.

    Truth #3
    The jury that found Davis guilty was majority/minority.

    Myth #4
    Most convicted criminals on Georgia’s Death Row as of January 2008 were minorities.

    Truth #4
    The majority of those convicted persons on Georgia’s Death Row are white males. The lone female on Georgia’s Death Row is white.

    Myth #5
    The support Davis is receiving from celebrities and human rights groups must mean there is doubt about his innocence.

    Truth #5
    The celebrities and human rights groups that are asking for clemency for Davis are doing so because they oppose the death penalty NOT because he is innocent. He IS GULITY!

    September 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • heime

      Truth # 6 – in about 4 hours he will be exterminated like the roach that he is.

      September 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • peacejustice1

      He's not guilty. One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

      September 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • morbus gravis

      wow are you a hypocrite you want to concemn coles on less evidence then they have on troy. you are wacked. there is no evidence linking coles, if you say troy has no evidence linking him so he innocent then coles must be innocent tooo you are a lib nut

      September 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee Harvey Oswald

      The appellate courts disagree with you and the defense.

      September 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. R. Glovan

    He's guilty.

    "Westinghouse 'em!"

    September 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Twisted

    Why, Oh Why, were the spent bullet casings from two different (in time and place) incidents in ONE and the same bag? Therein lies the solution to the case, or at the very least, the reason for doubt of Troy David's guilt. I have no problem with the death penalty where there is absolutely no doubt of guilt, but I would never condone killing a man who is innocent of murder, whether by chance or design!

    September 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • morbus gravis

      that sitiuation was sorted out and reviewd by 29 judges.. hes still guilty.

      September 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • morbus gravis

      and that was not knew evidence the black jury knew about it ant eh verdict was guilty

      September 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bruce

    He's guilty. 'nuff said.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peppy

      You're a d u m b @ $ $. 'Nuff said.

      September 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rick

    If there's no doubt about his guilt, why not let him take the polygraph test???????

    September 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • morbus gravis

      because they are not accurate. a recent couple took one that had there kid kidnapped and the polygraph showed they were lying, but they were not liying the girl was dead in a bag in a ditch by the neighbor, he has nothing to lose by taking it, if it says hes guilty he will just say they are not accurate. if it says hes not guilty he will say its proof. thats why

      September 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Paul NYC

    The death penalty is wrong. It is inhuman. It is anti-Christian in every possible way. The people who claim piety even as they cheer state-sanctioned murder are no better than the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus: Religious fakes. Anyone who cheers capital punishment is a sadist and I worry that their sadism is manifested in ways other than just their glee over killing.

    I don't pretend to know whether Troy Davis is guilty or not but that's not the point at all. The death penalty is beneath the level of a civilized society.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • morbus gravis

      who cares if its anti-christian we live in a secular country

      September 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Felicity

      So true...

      September 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Felicity

      In this "secular" country, state governments are attempting to define a religious union as that between a man and a woman. This country is selectively moral - Christian when it's convenient, secular when it's not.

      September 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee Harvey Oswald

      Religion, much like everything else in life, has nothing to do with this. The death penalty will no longer be necessary when people stop committing crimes that are worthy of a death sentence.

      September 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Krys

      In this "secular" country, state governments are attempting to define a religious union as that between a man and a woman. This country is selectively moral - Christian when it's convenient, secular when it's not.

      September 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • heime

      @ Lee Harvey – couldn't have said it better myself.

      September 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • morbus gravis

      the state does not do religious unions it does civil unions you knuckle head

      September 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • PM Ohio

      What have you or your Christian religions done to abolish the death penalty? Prosecutors and lawyers can't make it up as they go...they have the rule of law to obey. In this case, Georgia Law. This case is not about the death penalty, it is about courts following the law. If you and your Christian churches were to lobby the Repubs and Tea Baggers (meaning donate money), then maybe there wouldn't be a death penalty, ever think of that? You can't pick and choose which psychopaths/sociopaths to 'support' in your disgust with the death penalty...too late, Georgia Law has decided this man should die for his actions. Maybe instead of lobbying to prevent gays from marrying, the money should have been spent on saving lives and doing away with the duality of being "pro-life" but allowing executions to happen in the US...

      September 21, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. phearis

    Four hours and 5 minutes to go. Nobody's coming to your aid this time. You're finally going to pay for what you did.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. morbus gravis

    he clearly plead guilty to shooting cooper and trying to kill cooper, he was the only one that night running around with a gun shooting people. so who do you think shot the cop. what are the oddss it was someone else???

    September 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Scott

    The Law is above the Law and they can do whatever they wish.... even in doubt.

    September 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Timus

    I'm thinking that if you put the shell casings from one shooting in the bag with the other then that about makes your evidence invalid! Why don't we throw shell casings from other cases in the same bag? That's not my idea of viable evidence!!

    September 21, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • morbus gravis

      how would it make it invalid? if you picked up 4 shell casings at the cooper shooting. and you picked up 5 shell caseings from the cop killing, and you put them all in the same bag. and the forensics show they all came from the same gun, what got compromised???? if they were in two differnet bags the forensics would of said the same thing. as you can see im smarter then you

      September 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee Harvey Oswald

      Why would it make it invalid? How? Doesn't make sense. If it were a blood sample and it could be altered then yes but these are shell casings and cannot be degraded simply by having them sit in the same container as casings from a different, however, very similar shooting.

      September 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36