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."

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Filed under: Courts • Crime • Death Penalty • Georgia • Justice
soundoff (1,145 Responses)
  1. Anthony

    recanting just seems fishy. why now?

    September 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alvin

      You don't have long before judgement day and you gon wish you can die instantly, but you won't. Hell is forever. Read isaiah 66 last few verses tell you that. Jesus is the only way and your heart is far from him. Eye for and eye is old testament, so clearly you don't beleive in Jesus. Good Luck during Great tribulation. China and russia can't wait. Can't fake this one.

      September 22, 2011 at 5:39 am | Report abuse |
  2. Merry

    IT SOUNDS LIKE EVERYONE WHO IS AGAINST THE TROY DAVIS CASE IS TRYING TO PULL OUT THE RACE CARD BECAUSE LAST TIME I CHECKED YOUR INNOCENT TILL PROVEN GUILTY AND IN THIS CASE THERES TO MUCH 'DOUBT' THE MCPHAILS JUST WANT TO SEE HIM DEAD THERES NO JUSTICE IN KILLING AN INNOCENT MAN I'M SORRY WHAT HAPPENED TO THERE LOVED ONE BUT JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL FOR TROY DAVIS.THE EVIDENCE JUST ISN'T THERE AND BEFORE YOU POST ATLEAST CHECK YOUR FACTS.....YOU SOUND LIKE A BUNCH OF RACISTS BIGGETS.........FREE TROY DAVIS IN JESUS NAME AMEN......

    September 21, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darnell

      Did you even read the article Merry? Even if you did I'm not sure you fully understood it. These are the spelling mistakes you made in your comment; you're, until, too, their, and biggots.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reclaimer

      "Check your facts"? This isn't about race, this is the story about a guy who had just finished shooting someone else, walked down the street and shot a cop for messing with one of his friends (Redd Coles) with that same gun. He admitted to being at the scene of both shootings, and the only other person present for both was his buddy Darrell.. The casings from the gun that was used in both shootings matched up. Check your facts, and while you're at it turn off your capslock.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darnell

      *also it is racist biggots, not racists biggots.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unshavenhelga

      He was proven guilty. Twice. TWO times.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Merry

      I KNOW HOW TO SPELL AND I SPELLED IT LIKE THAT FOR A REASON BECAUSE I'M BLOGGING WITH A BUNCH OF IDIOTS SO BY THE WAY YOUR THE MOST RACISTS PEOPLE I KNOW AND I HAVE CHECKED THE FACTS MAYBE YOU SHOULD GO BACK AND CHECK THEM............WHITE TRASH....................

      September 21, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darnell

      It's most racist, not most racists. Oops, maybe next time Merry.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reclaimer

      I want to live in this bizarre world of yours. Seems much more exciting than trying to act like an adult all day.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Merry

      I'M CHATTING WITH AN IDIOT DID YOU NOT SEE MY UM UM UM UM LAST POSTING STUPID TRYING TO STAY ON YOUR LEVEL DARNELLLLLLLLLLLLLL

      September 21, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darnell

      Nice one Merry, so you think you know what my level is? Somehow I doubt that, you don't know me. Just estimating from your posts, but you couldn't be on my level if you tried. Also here's something for you, I think you're the racist. Calling people white trash who you don't even know. So mull over that for a while Merry. (that means think about it, just to make sure you know what I'm referring to)

      September 21, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raevyn

      Darnell: if you read more than just this article I think you will find that there's plenty of reason to question this man's guilt and whether or not he received a fair trial. That, in itself, is reason to suspend the death penalty here. Your criticism of Merry is rather amusing though, since it's "bigot", not "biggot".

      September 21, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • CSUNikki

      Let me guess, Merry must be a black man because he (1) refuses to believe the FACTS (2) calling people names such as "white trash" and (3) is siding on the truly gulity Troy Davis because he is also a black man. This is our way of sending back a defective product to God and letting Him sort it out. People want to believe that Troy Davis has the honesty of Abe Lincoln but he also has the charm of the guy who shot him! I hope this brings closure to the mother who lost her son to this killer. RIP to all.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darnell

      Raevyn: Whoops, that one is on me. I got too wrapped up in looking through all of her errors to check my own, it doesn't help that I'm doing this from a phone. But either way Merry's posts are a little over the top and that's why I'm responding to her like I am. I don't know if he's guilty or not, nobody really can for sure but him. No matter what, I am against the death penalty though. I don't think anyone has the right to do that to take someone else's life.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. James

    I see the "Do Gooders" are back at it again–Too bad he isn't in Texas–He would be toast by now–

    September 21, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Merry

      TALKIN LIKE THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN TOASTED TO............YOU ONLY TOAST THE GUILTY NOT THE INNOCENT STUPID......AND THE MAN IN TEXAS DESERVED WHAT HE GOT HE WAS A REAL RACISTS ALONG WITH HIS BUDDIES THAT'S WHY HE'S TOASTED NOW IDIOT..........SEEMS LIKE YOU GREW UP WITH A WHITE SHEET FAMILY 'KKK' IDIOT.......

      September 21, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • CSUNikki

      I wish California's legal system was more like Texas. The liberals are giving the truly guilty murders a free ride on our tax dollars while the bleeding hearts wants them out so we can be more humane to them? What about the victims? These killers didn't blink an eye when they committed their crime, but now judgement day is here, they cry for "humane justice". Pleaseeee. Texas= 10 years of appeals and then it's game over.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Merry

    ALSO IT SEEMS TO ME THE DA WHO TRIED THE CASE IS NOT WANTING THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT IT ALL TO COME OUT I SMELL A COVER UP.......ON THE POLICE SIDE AND THE DA'S OFFICE.......TO ME THEY DON'T WON'T A LAWSUIT ...........OR THE REAL TRUTH OF WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT............

    September 21, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. YoMama

    Troy Davis lived a lifestyle of crime and he had been involved in a previous shooting before being arrested. I'm sure he was about ready to start living a productive and honest life right about the time he got arrested for murdering an officer of the law. Right.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tiffany

      he was wrongly convicted of both am I the only find it fishy the same shells ended up in the same bag for both crimes???????". 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." no gun no evidence come on wheres the smoking gun????America is a JOKE let child killers off and the innocent die

      September 21, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alvin

      what next year foolish minded, You don't have long before judgement day and you gon wish you can die instantly, but you won't. Hell is forever. Read isaiah 66 last few verses tell you that. Jesus is the only way and your heart is far from him. Eye for and eye is old testament, so clearly you don't beleive in Jesus. Good Luck during Great tribulation. China and russia can't wait. Can't fake this one.God bless ya

      September 22, 2011 at 5:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. gwats

    He did it and he needs to be gone. Now.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alvin

      You don't have long before judgement day and you gon wish you can die instantly, but you won't. Hell is forever. Read isaiah 66 last few verses tell you that. Jesus is the only way and your heart is far from him. Eye for and eye is old testament, so clearly you don't beleive in Jesus. Good Luck during Great tribulation. China and russia can't wait. Can't fake this one.

      September 22, 2011 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. ajmacdonaldjr

    I am against the death penalty regardless of this man's guilt or innocence....and it seems to me that he has had more than enough opportunity to clear his name in court, which he has failed to do. As I understand it, Mr Davis refused to testify on his own behalf which, if he were innocent, he would surely have done, but not if he were guilty. The victim in this case seems forgotten by the celebrity led crowd, which I cannot in good conscience be a part of, because I think he probably did kill that cop.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jay

    I'm sick of all these sympathizers for this criminal so sickening. When Obama is voted out next year is this the garbage that will go on? Funny how you disagree with Obama and your a racist according to Morgan Freeman. To all you African Americans who use the race card get over it and shut the heck up.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • WILL

      WOW I have served in the military for 24 years and that is the way you speak about my Commander and Chief. I don't know if Mr Davis is guilty or not. But if the evidence doesn't support the verdict it should at least be relooked. often time there is pressure on Law enforcement and prosecutors to get a conviction and sometimes the truth is fudged. So this is not about race it's about the fairness and the truth.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alvin

      what next year foolish minded, You don't have long before judgement day and you gon wish you can die instantly, but you won't. Hell is forever. Read isaiah 66 last few verses tell you that. Jesus is the only way and your heart is far from him. Eye for and eye is old testament, so clearly you don't beleive in Jesus. Good Luck during Great tribulation. China and russia can't wait. Can't fake this one.

      September 22, 2011 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Alvin

      what next year foolish minded, You dont have long before judgement day and you gon wish you can die instantly, but you won't. Hell is forever. Read isaiah 66 last few verses tell you that. Jesus is the only way and your heart is far from him. Eye for and eye is old testament, so clearly you don't beleive in Jesus. Good Luck during Great tribulation. China and russia can't wait. Can't fake this one.

      September 22, 2011 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jim Weix

    Of course the Prosecutor says he has no doubt about Troy Davis' guilt. These "pigs in the taxpayer's trough" are only interested in convictions, not truth.
    Troy Davis and his family seem to be just another example of ghetto garbage, but that doesn't mean that he is quilty of that crime. I'm sure that everyone will use his death as an excuse to get a big screen tv afterwards.
    However, it is really important to really establish guilt here and explore all avenues.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Darnell

    I'm not sure if Davis is guilty or not, but I know for sure that raymond is a d bag.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Merry

    YOUR A RACIST WHO TALKS LIKE THAT NO ONE BUT A RACIST

    September 21, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Why no hate for the "liars" who put him there?

      Merry, I think it is obvious to all America tonight, whom is the most racist bunch of liars in our nation. The protester won the blue ribbon of racism for their efforts.

      September 22, 2011 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Alvin

      You don't have long before judgement day and you gon wish you can die instantly, but you won't. Hell is forever. Read isaiah 66 last few verses tell you that. Jesus is the only way and your heart is far from him. Can't fake this one.

      September 22, 2011 at 5:36 am | Report abuse |
    • JJWW

      *You're

      September 22, 2011 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. Liza

    If the outcome of the legal case and the will of the public don't agree, something must be wrong here.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    Lynch him!

    September 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alvin

      You don't have long before judgement day and you gon wish you can die instantly, but you won't. Hell is forever. Read isaiah 66 last few verses tell you that. Jesus is the only way and your heart is far from him. Eye for and eye is old testament, so clearly you don't beleive in Jesus. Good Luck during Great tribulation. China and russia can't wait. Cant fake this one.

      September 22, 2011 at 5:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. Margot

    You can always be a murderer if you are black because your skin color will save you and you can OJ these white trash courts as they are so pathetically stuffed up to their neck with guilt because of past slavery and the nonsense. That's right because of Eve's biting the apple (black Eves never existed anyway cause they are NOT of the human lineage ) guilt flows through and always comes before judgement. Yea. Then why even bother taking a black to court anyway? Isn't he the poor little chimp who is the victim of white weird cage courts and their rules and laws bla bla? Yea. Strangely even in Africa they apparently, I stand corrected, use the same white court principles , where 'everything' is black so no color problems they supposedly apply these same rules with some so called success unless you have a special 'position' or wallet. Does that mean that these African courts make better use of these white laws unless its all a blackwash or have we in the Western world invented the dumb and infected jurisprudence given that we can hardly apply its logical understanding and avoid legal paralysis?
    Murder as you like and question the law and you will NOT be a racist and a bigot unless you have the wrong skin color.
    What else does one have to prove ? What is the purpose of having a prosecution and the fair and honest assessment of those working hard to make it purposeful ?
    Time to review the very meaning of the phrase Rule of Law because its actual meaning at the moment is very blurry.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DeanO

    Glad to hear the other side. All we hear from these days is the Lib media and anti-DP cowards. Where's the outrage of a White man being executed in Texas just hours ago fro killing a black man? Seems like that crime and punishment didnt fit the lib agenda so no one is screaming about it. Lets hope we soon hear the words "Davis is Dead"

    September 21, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alvin

      You don't have long before judgement day and you gon wish you can die instantly, but you won't. Hell is forever. Read isaiah 66 last few verses tell you that. Jesus is the only way and your heart is far from him. Eye for and eye is old testament, so clearly you don't beleive in Jesus. Good Luck during Great tribulation. China and russia can't wait. Can't fake this one. God bless

      September 22, 2011 at 5:43 am | Report abuse |
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