Lawton notes, for example, that there was physical (ballistic) evidence as well as "persuasive circumstantial evidence." In addition, "some of the so-called recantations weren't recantations at all, others were flatly unbelievable, and others were subsequently abandoned by the defense in a federal evidentiary hearing."
Ballistics evidence established that shell casings from an event earlier in the day (in which Davis was later convicted of shooting another man in the face) matched casings recovered from the scene of Officer Mark MacPhail's murder. Circumstantial evidence included the fact that Davis immediately fled to Atlanta and had to be coaxed back by his family.Lawton says Davis' trial was "open and transparent" and "grounded in fact." Since it was "contemporaneous with the crime," the witnesses recollections "were still fresh." In contrast, here is Lawton's commentary on the "recantations" many years later:
There were four people who were eye witnesses in the sense of specifically identifying Davis in testimony at trial as the man they saw shoot the officer. One of these refused to give a recantation; one gave an affidavit of recantation that she would not swear to and that did not in fact contradict her trial testimony; another one's "recantation" didn't actually contradict his trial testimony; and the fourth gave a direct recantation, but when she was later available to testify in person at the 2010 hearing, Davis' lawyers declined to call her as a witness —she would have been subject to cross examination. (Other witnesses had identified Davis in terms of the shooter's clothing, participation in the original altercation with the homeless man, or subsequent confessions made by Davis. It's noteworthy that these categories of witnesses don't fall readily within the scope of the "unreliability of eyewitness testimony" we've heard so much about from the academy recently.)Lawton argues Davis' lawyers "clearly saw their recantations as being more valuable as a device for delay than as substantive exoneration." That is why they waited until the last minute to reveal this "new evidence." Nonetheless, they were reviewed via "14 appearances before six courts, including five trips to the U.S. Supreme Court and three clemency hearings." This can hardly be fairly characterized as a "railroading" process. Re witnesses woth "new" information:
Eventually they found a woman who was purportedly willing to say Coles confessed to her. At the 2010 hearing they brought her in as a witness, but they manipulated the proceedings in a way guaranteed to make her testimony inadmissible. Thus the lawyers got the best of both worlds: without subjecting her to cross examination, they could tell the world about their valuable exculpatory witness whom the court wouldn't hear. There were three other witnesses who implicated Coles at least marginally. The lawyers only bought in two for the 2010 hearing. One was the woman just mentioned. The other had a record of 76 arrests since 1990 for cocaine, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence, and took the occasion to tell his third version of the facts regarding Coles.Lawton concludes that at "critical function" of courts is to "buffer and supplant the howling of the mob, whether it wishes to punish the innocent or free the guilty." See full story here.