Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Condemned Ga. Killer Wins 90-Day Stay

Excerpts from the Associated Press

A man convicted of killing a police officer won a reprieve a day before his scheduled execution, after his lawyers argued that several witnesses had recanted or changed their testimony.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday granted a stay of execution of up to 90 days to Troy Davis, 38, who was convicted of killing a Savannah police officer in 1989.

He had faced a Tuesday execution date before the board's decision, which came after less than an hour of deliberation. The stay means the execution will be on hold while the board weighs the evidence presented as part of Davis' request for clemency. The board must rule by Oct. 14.

Davis' lawyers say seven witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony that they saw Davis shoot the officer, saw him assault the homeless man or heard Davis confess to the slaying.

Three people who did not testify have said in affidavits that another man, Sylvester Coles, confessed to killing the officer after Davis was convicted. After the shooting, Coles identified Davis as the killer.

If this proves to be true, that Coles is the real killer, then it follows the disconcerting pattern of the real killer being a witness for the prosecution of an innocent person.

If Coles is the real killer, I would like to know what other crimes Coles committed in the interim that he would not have committed had he been arrested, charged, tried, and convicted.

I would also like to know why so many witnesses gave false testimony. Were they misled into their identifications by flawed methods? Did the investigators "lead" them into identifying the person they thought was guilty? Were they coerced in anyway to identify the wrong person? Did they know Coles was the real killer but fingered Davis anyway?

If Davis is not guilty, and it only comes down to a matter of eye witnesses changing their testimony, then that will not be sufficient for the victim's family -- they will forever believe that the man who killed their husband/father got away with murder. That's a horrible sentence to impose upon innocent people.

The officer's widow, Joan MacPhail, decried the ruling. "I believe they are setting a precedent for all criminals that it is perfectly fine to kill a cop and get away with it," she said. "By making us wait, it's another sock in the stomach. It's tearing us up."

"I believe police did their job correctly and found the right man," the slain officer's son, Mark MacPhail Jr., told reporters after his family addressed the board.

MacPhail said he told the board what it was like to grow up without a father. The son, now 18, was less than 2 months old when his father was killed.