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. islandgirl

    I believe serving the rest of your life in jail is the best punishment–knowing you will NEVER walk around 'unconfined' is good–it gives you lots of time to think about 'gee'..,if I hadn't of killed that person I could be......' sorry dude
    LIVE WITH IT...IT LOOKS GOOD ON YOU!!!!! Being executed is to good for murders

    September 20, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • fearlessdude

      "the rest of your life in jail." What is the point?

      September 21, 2011 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. SayWhat??

    I know I posted about this earlier but is anyone else flabbergasted by these statements below from the prosecutor??


    He also said the question of duress cuts both ways.

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


    He seems to pretty much be conceding that duress was or may have been used to get the initial witness testimony. If that's the case, doesn't that cast doubt on the other evidence presented by the police especially when you consider shell casings from both crime scenes were found in one bag??

    I'm not saying Davis is innocent – I truly don't know if he is or isn't – but that sounds like reasonable doubt right there especially in a capital case. Unbelievable.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      agreed, if you can use any form of duress to obtain statments, then there is no validity in said statements. As gito has proven (with its ZERO good intel in 9 years) persons under duress will say anything to end the suffering.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. truth hurts

    special place in hell for the prosecuter

    September 20, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scarf

      Prosecutor is not going to hell. You should be concerned with your fate.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • heshotanotherthatnight

      You mean heaven for giving the victims mom justice. You know this murderer was convicted for another shooting that night too right!

      As a society we should spend our resources keeping our elders alive rather then our monsters.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      I agree with you, and for all of those who want this man to fry, just remember karma is hell, and you just might end up on the other side of a false acuisition soon enough.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  4. Laura JT

    Perhaps the prosecuter would feel differently if he were in this man's shoes. Perhaps an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, ya think?

    September 20, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • atbigfoot91

      That is far too liberal an idea for a lot of these morons. If it were up to them, they would convict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor said it was guilty and then attempt to put it to death.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Aony

      I support "an eye for an eye" way for justice. So let's send those prosecutors and judges who wrongfully gave death sentence to innocent men.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • M in Oz

      No, and eye for an eye would leave everyone with an eye. Why bother having punishments at all if criminals are too dumb too innocent and "naive" to abide by them? Maybe criminals can think before they commit crimes knowing what the punishment is.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. John Adams

    You know Casey Antony has more evidence on her for killing her child and she walks. This case has almost all second guessing evidence and he is sent to die. I just do not understand that.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • heshotanotherthatnight

      Maybe you should read this article again. Your a normal American though don't feel bad, the media is tricky to Americans...

      September 21, 2011 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      hesho... I think you are just a racest fool. It is crystal clear that the bigots in the south went after this man because of color, not evidance. but what eltse do you expect from the popo, they are gang bangers with a salery, nothing better.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. Justin

    I never understand why anyone would rather be in prison for the rest of their lives with no chance of getting out rather than getting lethal injection.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jeremy

    Everyone here is damning Spencer Lawton for the conclusions of the Court of Appeals. I would bet almost none of you are attorneys. None of you have taken an oath to represent a client, even when you disagree with your client's position.

    Well, I have taken that oath and nothing here is as cut and dried as so many of you seem to make it out to be. Any person here who thinks that the criminal justice system is run by corrupt and racist people, stop complaining. Go to law school, fight for three years to make a name for yourself, fight to get a job with the District Attorneys office wherever you live, deal with the low pay and years of doing grunt work in traffic court while you climb the ladder of seniority within the DA's office, and then you can have a say when a murder case like this comes across your desk.

    Don't want to do that? Then don't act like you know the "truth" when you don't understand who bears the burden of proof at an appellate hearing. What the common law standard is for establishing reasonable doubt at an appeal. The methods of appellate evaluation and the weighing of evidence before the Court of Appeals. If you don't want to understand WHY the decision wasn't overturned, don't stand and complain because you think there is some grand conspiracy to convict Troy Davis.

    While you're sacrificing your personal life in law school, keep in mind that Spencer Lawton did not deny Troy Davis's appeals; multiple appellate courts and appellate court judges did as well as the Georgia Board of Probation and Parole (all people who are NOT Spencer Lawton and who do NOT work for the District Attny's office). While you're studying for the bar exam, try to remember that while Davis's attorneys presented new evidence to the appeals court, all the state prosecutor did was make valid, legal arguments for why the trial court's decision should be upheld...and consistently won. When you swear an oath to represent your client, the state of wherever, without passion or prejudice, try to remember that just because evidence was mishandled initially, it doesn't mean that the correct, factual result wasn't reached by a jury, nor does it mean that the District Attorney fabricated evidence.

    Do all that, then you can jump back on this board and call Spencer Lawton a racist and an evil person.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • atbigfoot91

      Stop your pitiful agrandizing, whining and posturing and address the meat of this, idiot: They are about to execute a man when SEVEN out of the original NINE witnesses have recanted their testimony.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Well said, Jeremy, although probably a bit too much for some of these people to comprehend. As for you, "Atbigfoot", calling Jeremy an idiot for a very well-articulated post that just because you don't like it is a pretty idiotic thing in an of itself, and heaven forbid if you were ever in a position of responsibility. YOU might try explaining why it took so long for these witnesses to recant, AND to perhaps recognize that THEY could have been coerced in different ways as well (e.g., from the family, from friends of the convicted, by a lack of belief in the death penalty, etc.).

      Jeremy, good comment and well said...take care.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • atbigfoot91

      Well Bob, I guess ut is a good thing I am not a Georgia backwoods prosecutor becauseif I were I would have YOU executed for being an idiot as well.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • L.B.

      you are seriously mistaken.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • L.B.

      you are mistaken, Jeremy

      September 21, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Darrtl

      Well Bob and Jeremy since the both of you have the upmost faith in the judicial system then O.J. and Casey were innocent as well right???.........................................EXACTLY. That's what I thought.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Darrtl

      And this entire "we didn't go to Law School so we shouldn't have an opinion" rhetoric Jeremy is spewing out is retarded. That is the equivalent to an athlete becoming upset at a sports commentator for criticizing the player because he was never an athlete. I can't believe we seriously do live in an idiocracy.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      our whole system is croupt, why on earth would trust anything that some who gets paid to lie would say. I trust all lawyers as much as I do priests and cops, not one fing word. Going thru law school DOES NOT MAKE YOU AN EXPERT ON HUMANITY, just on our "justic system" I have taken class on preception, and know for a fact that eye witness testamony is 100% unreliable. You can listen to the lawyers statments (about duress being used to get testamonies) and know this case was a setup from word one. And as far as "the right to get on this bord and..." the only good thing about this country iIS that I can say what I want, to whom ever I want, when ever I want, that is the last bastion of american freedom, so why dont you get off your high hourse, stop defending a man that you only agree with because he shares your "hard" vocation, and get a life. PS anyone who defends someone who they know is guilty is and evil pr**k, and you will get karma in the end.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Laura JT

      You sound very bitter . . . perhaps you weren't "smart" enought to hold another man's life in your hands so your could gleefully kill legally.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      @Darrtl: Both OJ and Casey Anthony were found not guilty because, according to the jury, the evidentiary standard was not met. I disagree with the not-guilty verdict in the OJ case, but agree with the not guilty verdict in the Anthony case. And it isn't because OJ is black and Anthony is white, it's because prosecutors in the OJ case were able to link, via DNA evidence, OJ with the crime scene and I did not believe Barry Scheck's arguments that mishandling of the evidence caused a false correlative result or led to intentional tampering. I agree with the Anthony Jury because the State was unable to prove how Casey's daughter died and therefore could not sustain its initial burden of proving murder.

      But that's not what you're criticizing me for: You think that I have a blind faith in juries and the judicial system. As someone who has made a living out of arguing in front of juries and appeals courts for both the prosecution and defense, I can tell you that I don't have any illusions.

      The point of my comments was not to argue for blind allegiance to justice, but to defend the prosecutor against those who would call him evil and allege that he is a racist for doing his job. My point was that most on here don't understand how the appellate system works, it's safeguards and standards, and instead of learning about, they log on and lob insults at the prosecutor.

      Oh and your criticism of this process is not like a non-athlete criticizing a professional football player. It's more like someone who isn't a physician criticizing a team of surgeons. Deciding whether a defense team has met its burden of proof in establishing reasonable doubt as well as the state's counter arguments is a little more complicated than arguing that the coach should have gone for it on fourth down and two.

      @Laura JT: I am bitter, but mostly about how badly my uni did in football and how my wife wants me to have dinner with a friend of hers that I can't stand. As for the death penalty...I've been part of three murder trials (on the defense) and worked on at least four pro bono death penalty appeals. I'm not bitter about that. I don't know how "smart" I am, I just know how hard I worked to get to where I am and that I am considered an expert in an area that you are not.

      @mickey1313: Thank you for your well reasoned and non-paranoid retort. How did you end up doing in the class on perception?

      September 21, 2011 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. TEW

    Procecutors will rarely if at all admit they made an error in judgement. As for the question pertaining to witnessess recanting their statements I beleive that guilt coupled with an overly agressive and racially motivated justice system contributed to the less than fair trial received by the accused. GA like SC and TX will not let anyone let alone an African American escape capital punishment. Unfortunately these are the times we live in and GA, SC and TX will always be racially biased in all their judicial proceedings. The procecutor, jury, family members on both sides and the judge will have to live with their decisions. Pleading ignorace to evidence will be no excuse come judgement day. May the lord bless all the parties involved and give peace to the families. The execution of this person will not bring the slain officer back to life so I don't know what type of justice the slain officers family is looking for especially if their is a chance that he may indeed be innocent.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Kim

    Convicted (strictly on eyewitness testimony). They go ahead despite the fact that seven of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony–a couple even saying police pressured them into testifying the way they did.
    This is not justice – it's murder.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • morbus gravis

      he was convicted on the physical evidence and two of the strngest witneses didnt recant, explain the cops blood on his shorts?? if he was not there???

      September 21, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Morbus, it's not worth the effort to try and convince these folks...they don't get it and are just caught up in the propaganda from the murderer's family. And of COURSE any coercion MUST have come from the police, right? I mean, it COULDN'T have surfaced recently due to pressure from the murderer's family, friends, etc. could it????? Of COURSE not...

      Give me a break.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      gravis, um, wrong, there was NO physical evidance. And once the police are proven to have used misconduct (duress on the witnesses) then there case is gone, he deserves freedom.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. TruthEffect

    of course he has no doubts, when has a prosecutor ever had any doubts.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  11. Peace

    I have a lot of faith in His Holiness AND Jimmy Carter...

    September 21, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • atbigfoot91

      Jimmy Carter is a Christian willing to put his money where his mouth is. Unlike these fake Christian fvcks that pervade our society today.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Im related to jimmy carter, and he is a POS zionest fu**ball. He setup the system of billions of dollars of bribes to the arab nations to not attack isreal. He is a yellow craven dog, and anyone who is truely for america should be disgusted with how this man did business.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. Peace

    Laura JT- ya' "An eye for an eye...makes the whold World blind"... – Mahatma Ghandi

    September 21, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. L.B.

    Yes, flabbergasted by prosecutor's telling statement that "duress goes both ways."
    This situation is appalling. I can't believe I live in a country where this passes as "the right thing to do."
    Hope this prosecutor and spends he rest of his life haunted by this.
    And we all need to decide what justice and humanity mean.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • atbigfoot91

      You can rest assured that this execution will not affect this prosecutor at all. I am sure it wasn't the first time he railroaded a black man.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  14. ari

    he's probably guilty, but i don't care. the death penalty is barbaric, useless as a deterrent, and, as this case has shown, wastes decades of taxpayers' time and millions of their dollars. get rid of it. if this man had just been locked up for life, we wouldn't be hearing about this right now.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  15. atbigfoot91

    You know what I find amazing reading these posts is the UTTER FVCKING DISCONNECT in many folk's brains when it comes to this issue of 7 out of 9 witnesses recanting their testimony. It is like coming up to a puddle in the road and refusing to believe that rain didn't cause the puddle when 7 out of 9 people tell you they saw the sprinkler on.

    September 21, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Darrtl

      @atbigfoot91 WELL PUT!!!!

      September 21, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
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