Blog of Rights

Davis Hearing Wraps Up With Stunning Admission by Witness

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 4:55pm

This week, for the first time a court heard evidence of Troy Davis's innocence of a crime he was convicted of almost 20 years ago. Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.

Since his conviction in 1991, seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him at trial have recanted their statements. Of those seven, five testified this week that the police coerced them into lying and testifying against Davis. (The remaining two witnesses who had also recanted their testimony have died.) Among the testimony:

“I was scared,” [Darrell "D.D." Collins] said, adding that police threatened to charge him as an accessory. “That’s what they wanted me to say. I thought that was the only way I could get out of it.”

“I was so scared I told them anything they wanted to hear,” [Jeffrey Sapp] testified, saying he gave false testimony because irate police officers pressured him on what to say and he was worried he'd be charged for dealing drugs if he didn't.

One of the remaining two witnesses who had not recanted is Sylvester "Redd" Coles, who was with Davis the night of the murder. At this week's hearing, one eyewitness said he saw Coles murder Officer MacPhail:

Davis' legal team also summoned Benjamin Gordon, who testified that he saw Sylvester "Redd" Coles shoot and kill the officer.

Gordon, who is incarcerated and has at least six prior felony convictions, said he never came forward because he did not trust the police and feared what Coles might do to him or his family in retaliation.

"Is there any doubt in your mind that Redd Coles fired that shot?" [Davis's lawyer] asked. "No, sir," Gordon replied.

Since 1973, 138 men have been exonerated from death row. Hopefully this week's hearing is the first step towards making Troy Davis the 139th.

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