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. Fr33th1nk3r

    MERRY seems to think that calling everyone a "racist" changes the facts of the case...this guy is guilty as they come, and about to get off on the "race card clause"..... MERRY is also representing her ehtnicity very poorly and fitting about a doezn racial steroetypes like a glove right now– there are more mispellings, grammatical errors, logical errors, and signs of intellectual bankruptcy in her rambling NAACP posts than in a whole album of hip-hop "music".....

    September 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leonardo

      ya know it is black crap rap, we all do

      September 22, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dave Long

    Some need reminding that wrong place, wrong time could just as easily put them in Troy Davis' shoes. A little compassion never hurt anyone. It's not possible there could be 7 false recantations. It only seems fishy because the system could no longer keep it from the light of day. Simpletons may believe that wrong but certain is somehow better than entertaining doubt.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. tbone770

    Obama u lost my vote!

    September 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth

      Hopefully he did not lose your vote because of this issue, because I got news for you. Republicans support the death penalty too.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    That's the problem with our judicial system when it comes to capital murder. Not enough innocent folks being executed. Sorry, but 10 -20 yrs. worth of delays, appeals and court room tactics has taken the wind out of this direct and very decisive deterent. Capital Punishment. If done, quickly and effectively (however you want to interpert that) would be an effective crime deterent, but it's the lack of this, that continues to give capital punishment a bad name. Not the fact that it's acutally carried out. Oh, yeah, executions should also be shown on TV. I always that was a good idea. No one wants to see what could happen to them. The worst thing a man or woman could know, is when they are going to DIe.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth

      You don't know much about deterants. The law is not a deterant for crime, niether is the harshness of the punishment. If harshness and the law were deterants there would be no crime. Also your argument falls short among other civilized countries who have far less severe penalties and far less crime than the United States.

      In order to come up with a deterant you need to know why crime happens in the first place. Crime happens for the reason that every thing else happens and that is oppurtunity. In order for a crime to take place there first has to be an oppurtunity for that crime to happen. You take away the oppurtunity to committ crime then you have a clear deterant.

      Also the fact that innocent people have been killed through the death penalty and the fact that the death penalty is unfairly applied gives capital punishment a bad name.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:14 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, LOL

      September 22, 2011 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. John Doe

    Glad I don't live in the USA, where there is a huge doubt (and after reading the prosecutor's remarks to the media, which were a weak defense I think) surrounding the facts from both sides... But hey, let's execute him anyways rather getting to the the truth... WOW!!! Fun times...

    September 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark Bare

      What a coincidence... I am glad you are not here either! A win-win!

      September 21, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. johnborg

    The prosecutor is wrong. The fact that CNN publishes an article like this disrupts his argument. The media industry is clearly on the side of the dominant group. I don't care if Troy Davis is innocent or not, there is no where near enough evidence for him to be put to death tonight.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • jabby

      And what FACTS do you base that on?

      September 21, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • quana single

      @jabby what facts are you looking at or you blind or did you just see what you wanted to see

      September 21, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kevininvancouver

    God Bless his Soul may he have ever lasting peace and torment,

    September 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Melancon

    Folks, you're about to see the worst race riots you've ever seen. The world will rumble

    September 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • todd mohr

      Naw, there won't be any race riots, well, not for long. The State of Georgia will put down any uprising with a good swift beat down in the streets.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark Bare

      Yes because barbarians usually go out and mindlessly destroy when they don't get there way.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nany

      The jury had 7 blacks.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • quana single

      @mark bare how dare you try to be slick and call blacks that on the low the whites are just the same you guys just get away with more stuff if that ws a white man who killed a black cop he wouldve have been off by now with all the evidence against and there was none against troy only a bunch of hating hypocrites the same category you belong too@nany and your point about the jury being 7 blacks look how many whites were on his side and different races YOU people need to wake up

      September 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bardgal

    It's no use – you baggers posting here, spewing all your hate for Troy, and pretending to be liberal, and Pro-Obama. I feel nothing but pity for you.

    Your soul is poisoned.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • todd mohr

      You know, even Obama passed granting a pardon.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dean

      As if Obama were a liberal. This country leans so far to the right that dead-center seems like extreme left nowadays. Corporations and churches run this country. . . not the people.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Adelaide

    cop killers should be put to death. good riddance...

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

      With seven out of nine recanting their story proves that there is doubt wether or not he actually committed the crime.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • quana single

      where you there to see if he was a cop killer if not shut up then

      September 21, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. stacey

    i think it wrong for him to be put to death .the evidence is inclusive this is just like the Casey Anthony trail how many month did it take the to investigate what happen to her daughter.this is injustice

    September 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Galactic Cannibal

    Because the victim was a Cop did that release the blood thirsty dogs of American hypocrisy.. Beyond a reasonable doubt seem to be consigned to the American judicial trash bin in the case of Troy Davis. And I am for the death penalty..

    September 21, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. CurtJa

    Why is it none of the supporters of the death penalty are capable of explaining the "coincidence" of 7 of 9 witnesses recanting their testimony? How about the lack of physical evidence? If an innocent man has been executed tonight, his blood is on the hands of those who pushed for his death - your just desserts await you in the infernal depths when you die.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • todd mohr

      those that recanted never did so in court, only in the tabloids.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. onefeather

    About time, what a waste of money for 22 years.. and if they have riots that just goes to show you the mentally of the people.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • quana single

      the sad part is you are a racist pig nobody looked at the man who was allegedly getting pistol whipped he could have told who did the shooting wheremis he now the hell with the m*******s who was out for blood and want know today who killed their son but when its time to go through those pearly white gates they want make neither will all those who pushed for his death

      September 21, 2011 at 11:26 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 5:52 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ryan the casings they found were from a DIFFERENT shooting of his that night....right....well guess you shot at the wrong place at the wrong time then...or you are guilty. Either way...hope this deters someone else from firing shots at anyone other than defense.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
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