Inside the Troy Anthony Davis evidentiary hearing

(Photo Source: AP/Walter Cumming, sketch artist)

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Troy Davis returned to Savannah for the first time in almost 20 years. His attorneys presented evidence they believe will prove he is innocent, or at least, prove doubt about his guilt.

Sentenced to death in 1991 for the 1989 murder of Savannah Police officer Mark MacPhail, Davis was brought into the Federal Courthouse courtroom with five prison guards wearing his prison jump suit and a pair of black-rimmed glasses.

Behind him, his family sat. While on the other side of the room, the family of Mark MacPhail listened in on the proceedings.

Only 110 people were allowed in, 90 were supporters of both families, the media and anyone else who waited in line early in the morning for a ticket to the unprecedented proceedings.

Judge William T. Moore addressed the State of Georgia and petitioners, the Davis defense team. He told them he had read all the trial paperwork and legal briefs and was ready for the evidence to be presented, starting with witness testimony.

First up was Antoine Williams, who in 1989 told police he witnessed the shooting death of MacPhail from his car and was able to describe the suspect. Williams said the shooter was a  black male between the ages of 20 and 23, who was 6 feet 2 inches tall and wearing a white T-shirt. He testified that described the weapon used as a rusty revolver.

Williams, who said he cannot read or write, has since recanted the testimony and statement.  He said he did not know who shot MacPhail and did not see anything because his car was facing the wrong way and the windows were too tinted to see anything. He said he signed the affidavit and had no pressure to sign, but couldn't read it.

He told detectives at the time he was 60 percent sure it was Davis. Now, he said he does not know who the gunman was and he had no idea what he had signed.

"All I remember is an officer being shot. I still have nightmares. That's it," Williams told the courtroom Thursday.

Next to the witness stand was Kevin McQueen, who was in the Chatham County Jail at the same time as Davis. McQueen testified against him, claiming Davis told him he shot and killed MacPhail.

McQueen said he made the story up because he and Davis had a confrontation and Davis "spit in my damn face" and "got the best of me."

McQueen said he saw news stories on the shooting and lied under oath and was never told by Davis he shot an officer. "He did not tell me he shot anyone -- period," McQueen said.

Defense staff attorney, John Hanus, took the stand after McQueen, and answered questions about how he interviewed previous witnesses in 2001 and 2002, including the deceased Harriet Murray. She was the girlfriend of Larry Young, the homeless man who was crying for help while being beaten when MacPhail was shot trying to help him, according to court documents.

Murray had recanted her testimony from the original trial. He said the witnesses who recanted were under no pressure and made no promises.

Jeffrey Sapp is the man detectives said told police that Davis mentioned to him and his friends about the murder the next day in 1989. Sapp testified that he knew Davis and had a brief conversation with him, but that Davis did not say he shot MacPhail.

When questioned by police, Sapp said he told them he didn't know anything and did not know about the shooting. However, later in the hearing, Lt. Carl Ramsey testified that it was Sapp who flagged down police to tell them about Davis's alleged admission, while Davis was riding by on a bicycle.

Sapp told the courtroom he was scared police were coming for him because he was selling drugs at the time, but they were after Davis. He said he was taken in for questioning and "four or five" detectives told him Davis had confessed to someone. He claims that police said: "just say Troy told you. Just say Troy told you."

Sapp said he also lied under oath. "When you have detectives in one ear, in the other ear, behind you, you do what they say. I was 19 at the time," Sapp said. "I said Troy is dangerous."

"I was saying the same thing they told me to say," Sapp told the courtroom about detectives.

He also claimed pressure from then Chatham County District Attorney Spencer Lawton, who he claims told Sapp to "stick to your statement."

Sapp also admitted to being on drugs, saying he was "smoking a lot of marijuana back then" and may have been in a fight with Troy at the time.

Darrell "DD" Collins took the stand after Sapp and told the courtroom he was partying the night of the murder with Davis and another man. Collins was 16 years old at the time.

He said they left a party, and went to a pool hall where they saw Sylvester "Red" Coles arguing with another man about alcohol. They left and were walking behind the two men arguing, headed towards the Burger King. He says police came and he walked away from the scene.

Collins testified he did not see Davis with a gun that night and did not see any altercation in the Burger King parking lot. "I didn't see anyone with a gun. I did not see Troy with a gun. I didn't see anything," Collins told the courtroom.

He testified that he said heard gun shots, but didn't know what happened. The next day, police came and told him Davis hit the man who Coles was with. He said police told him he could be an accessory to murder and he was afraid he would be charged with murder, but told them he did not see Davis hit the man. "Police did not care. They did not care," Collins said.

He said police threatened him. "Kiss your life goodbye because you are going to jail," Collins said. He changed his story and signed a typed statement given to him by police, Collins claimed.

The prosecution questioned Collins on his story changes, and why, if police made up the statement, would they go into details like "people were riding by the cars and cussin and throwing things."

He said police told him what to say, Collins said, and he told the courtroom Davis did not do anything wrong.

After lunch recess, the Davis defense team began to build towards the argument of the real killer being Coles.

Keyonna Glover, who was 5 years old when the murder took place, took the stand. The petitioners began to question Glover about Coles, but after the judge and the state complained about not being able to hear the witness, who was sick, she was removed from the stand.

April Hester, 38, was next up for questioning. She told the courtroom she was 17 years old when MacPhail was killed, and she and some friends threw a pool party, which Coles attended. She said he got into an altercation with someone at the party.

Later that night, she said they had heard about a police officer being shot and drove to the scene, where she found Coles nearby, court records show. She told the court she was scared and Coles told her to walk with him "so it would like like he didn't do anything wrong."

She said that although Coles lived across the street from her they never spoke about the incident again. She was questioned by police, but said she did not tell them about that interaction.

Hester was followed by two men with checkered pasts, who were serving time in jail. Charles Hargrove, a man who admitted to being a career criminal, told the court he knew Coles, and Coles admitted to shooting officer MacPhail while the two were smoking marijuana.

The judge interrupted the defense at the point asking if they were going to talk about Coles and ask questions about Coles then why don't they bring Coles in. Defense attorney Stephen Marsh said it was pointless to subpoena Coles since he would not admit to the murder.

Moore said they never know what Coles might say under cross-examination. After an objection on the basis of hearsay from the state, Moore agreed it was hearsay but allowed the testimony to continue, although noting it was unlikely it would carry any weight in his final ruling.

This brought 36-year-old Benjamin Gordon to the stand. He is also incarcerated, but said he was a relative of Coles. Court records show that he had seen Davis before, but he knew Coles.

Gordon had previously stated in affidavits he was near the scene and saw the shooting, but did not know who pulled the trigger. However, in court, he said he saw Coles shoot MacPhail.

Gordon said he didn't tell police because he doesn't trust the police and was scared of Coles.

The state pointed out Gordon's criminal history, including multiple charges of false statements to police and tampering with evidence and drug charges.

After a short recess, the defense said they had no more witnesses. The state, however, had three witness left to testify for the day.

First up was Capt. Richard Zapal, who testified about how the interview process was conducted for witnesses. The Davis defense team has said witnesses were pressured by police and coerced.

They played an audio clip of Zapal questioning Michael Wilkes. In the recording Zapal said, "You know what a material witness is? We put them in protection ... and they could be classified as a snitch."

The judge warned defense attorney Marsh not to put his own twist on Zapal's words.

Lt. Carl Ramsey took the stand next, and testified about Jeffrey Sapp, who earlier said police forced him to name Davis as the murderer. Ramsey said it was Sapp who flagged down an unmarked police car the next day to tell them about a conversation he had with Davis, alleging Davis admitted to the murder.

Ramsey also told the court that Sapp told him Davis shot "out of self defense" because the officer reached for his pistol and then "finished the job" because the officer got a good look at his face.

Ramsey said witnesses were not pressured or coerced.

The final witness of the day was Sgt. John Wichcomb, who interviewed Young, the homeless man.

He said Young couldn't tell him who hit him. He also interviewed Antoine Williams, the limo driver who he said described the suspect and the gun used, but in his testimony Wednesday, the driver said he couldn't remember and couldn't see anything.

The evidentiary hearing will continue at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, when the state is expected to call eight to 10 more witnesses.

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