Stay issued for Troy Davis

Published: Oct. 24, 2008 at 4:22 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2010 at 7:44 PM EDT
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Chatham County district attorney Spencer Lawton.
Chatham County district attorney Spencer Lawton.

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Instead of preparing for execution, Troy Davis' lawyers are preparing for a civil suit with the state in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, one man says Davis is guilty and believes execution is long overdue.

While we have heard from the pro-Troy Davis side for the last few years, Chatham County district attorney Spencer Lawton has been quiet. Until now.

He told WTOC he didn't think the civil suit would hold water. However, like others who felt the same way, he was proven wrong as Davis has been given another chance. His execution has been put on hold, federal courts granting a stay of execution.

All along, some wondered why the pardons and parole board would deny clemency with what may have seemed like reasonable doubt if you listened to supporters for Troy Davis.

Spencer Lawton is speaking out now about allegations of police coercion, witness recantations  and his disappointment in the justice system.

"For crying out loud. 17 years? It shouldn't take that long," Lawton told WTOC.

Lawton has no doubt the right man was convicted for the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.

"I think this case deserves the death penalty. I wish it was all resolved much sooner than this. We have accomplished nothing with all these hearings an re-hearings and recantations. I think we have accomplished nothing," he said.

His career as DA will come to an end soon. Lawton says he agrees with the family of Troy Davis on the state of the courts, but for different reasons.

"If a justice system is gonna do justice it needs to sit up straight and plant its feet and look the world in the eye and do justice. Not fool around with it for 17 years. I think that makes a mockery of it and I am ashamed of it," Lawton said.

Last year, Troy Davis was scheduled to die, but a clemency hearing ended with the board of pardons and paroles granting a stay while they looked at new evidence, including the recantations Lawton says hold no legal weight.

"It's an uncanny coincidence. So I cannot believe all these people wanted to spill their guts. I don't believe they lied in their testimony. There were lawyers trying to get them to say to rethink their testimony. They wouldn't do it," Lawton said. "12 years later, they must tell somebody they lied under oath at trial? I don't think so."

Lawton says he wanted to speak out as the defense and Amnesty International, among others, made allegations of police coercion.

"I've known the officers running the investigation. They are good. They are honorable men. They are good at their jobs," he said.

Lawton believes Troy Davis has been treated more than fairly and says all of the defense arguments have been heard.

"I'm just disappointed so many people have been led to believe nobody has paid attention to these recantations. It is simply not the case," he said. "On what grounds are the recantations more believable than the testimony in court? None. None."

"The parole board gave them an unprecedented two hearings," Lawton continued. "They also interviewed Davis. They still were unconvinced and they still denied him clemency."

With a civil suit against the state pending and another stay of execution granted, Lawton still thinks the door on the Troy Davis case may be just about shut. Just not as quickly as he hoped.

"I don't see it going anywhere. I'll be amazed if it has any effect on the outcome," Lawton said. "I am done with it, I devoutly hope."

Lawton's comments were made before the stay of execution was announced. We spoke with Mr. Lawton by phone today and he says he is disappointed, but doesn't feel it would be appropriate to comment any further.

Troy Davis now has a stay of execution and his lawyers have 15 days to file a legal brief with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Then, the attorney general's office has 10 days to respond.

Davis' sister Martina Correia, has been championing her brother's cause for almost 20 years. She says she was elated when she heard the news today and is hopeful for a new trial.

"We are hoping for the opportunity for this information to be heard by a judge and a jury and let them decide if this is true information, because we had a case where a man, not far from here, was granted clemency with only one recantation. We have seven of nine," Correia said.

The stay of execution is in effect until the court comes to a decision on if the case is to move forward.