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Judge rejects Troy Davis innocence claim

posted Aug 24, 2010, 1:04 PM by Kathryn Hamoudah   [ updated Aug 24, 2010, 1:05 PM ]

By Bill Rankin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

12:19 p.m. Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A federal judge on Tuesday emphatically rejected condemned inmate Troy Anthony Davis' claims that he was wrongly convicted of killing a Savannah Police officer in 1989.

In a 174-page order, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. said Davis had failed to prove his innocence during an extraordinary hearing this summer ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Ultimately, while Mr. Davis' new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors," Moore wrote. "The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains largely intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value."

Davis sits on death row for killing off-duty police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail as MacPhail ran to the aid of a homeless man being pistol-whipped. Davis's case has attracted international attention because a number of key prosecution witnesses have either recanted or backed off their trial testimony. Other witnesses have come forward and said another man at the scene, Sylvester "Redd" Coles, told them he was the actual killer.

Moore faulted Davis' legal team for not calling Coles to the witness stand during the specially ordered hearing to test the validity of his alleged confessions.

Moore did answer one question posed by the U.S. Supreme Court. He found that executing an innocent person would violate the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

"However, Mr. Davis is not innocent," Moore wrote.

Davis' new evidence, offered during a two-day hearing in June, "does not change the balance of the trial," the judge found.

Of the seven witnesses Davis' legal team say have recanted their trial testimony, "only one is a meaningful, credible recantation." The value of this recantation is diminished, the judge added, because it was already obvious the witness was testifying falsely at trial, Moore wrote.

Davis’ sister, Martina Correia, told The Associated Press her family wasn’t giving up hope.

“We will continue to fight. And we’ll appeal,” Correia said. “I have to talk to the lawyers and find out what the next steps are.”

The victim’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said she was pleased by the ruling but nervous that it may not stick.

“I’m not holding my breath,” said MacPhail, 76. “We’ve been through to much to think this is over soon. For 19 years we’ve been going back and forth, and too often in the 11th hour something happens.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.