I can’t think of a time when I have been drawn to a court case the way the Troy Davis case has pulled me in. Who can honestly say they have sat down and read a 100+ page court ruling?
There is much we can learn from the goings on of this case.
IN GENERAL, PEOPLE DON’T RESEARCH. We are a busy society. We don’t have time to fact check, research, look up things. We like the first part of what former president Ronald Reagan said (“trust”) but leave out the second part (“but verify”). It is not a stretch to say that many people made a decision based simply on hearing many times how 7 out of 9 witnesses recanted their testimony. I’m willing to bet that for many, they immediately assume there were 9 total witnesses, and that 7 previously said Davis did the crime but were now saying that he didn’t. Simply reading even a synopsis of the testimony given would show that wasn’t the case. Further, even the media doesn’t get it right. Members of the media would also use the 7 out of 9 line. But we must remember, whether its an opinion piece or a non-slanted article, it’s all meant to sell newspapers (or drive clicks to a website). My buddy over at the Nullspace has a good piece on that: http://thenullspace.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/on-capital-punishment-troy-davis-media-bias/
UNDERSTANDING THE COURT SYSTEM IS KEY. Reading through court docs was very eye-opening. One of the main points I took from this is that simply saying someone recanted is not grounds enough for a new trial. The judge from the Savannah hearing stated it best in his ruling. If it were that easy to get a new trial, especially after the fact, we would have people gathering witnesses to recant all the time. Then, said witnesses would just fail to show up for court. When requesting a new trial, defendant needs to show that new evidence not shown at trial has become available, or that the prosecution acted improperly. Most importantly, whatever the new evidence is must be enough to where the jury in the initial trial would have found the defendant not guilty. We may look at that and say its bad, or that the system is broken, but without that, the justice system could implode from trials and retrials.
HOW MANY WITNESSES DOES IT TAKE? Take away the witnesses who are on the “recant” list. When looking at the people who did not change testimony, who identified the shooter based on what he was wearing, and based on other testimony, it seems there is still a strong case that Davis was the shooter. The question is, if there was a new trial, how would you handle the testimony of those who didn’t change theirs, especially if they weren’t available for the new trial?
AFFIDAVITS DON’T CARRY A LOT OF WEIGHT IN COURT. The recanters all signed affidavits. Sounds good. But the difference between an affidavit and a statement on a piece of paper is simply a notary stamp. They don’t carry a lot of weight until the person making the statement can be cross examined in court to determine credibility. In Davis’ case, there were at least two who were actually at the last hearing but were not called to testify. In the court’s eyes, that make their statement suspicious. Also, without cross examination, the statements by people saying that Coles (the guy Davis said shot the officer and who was with him that night) did it is considered hearsay. This link– http://legalcases.info/troydavis/ –has a good breakdown of the case and further, has a very good breakdown of what the witnesses said at trial and later so that you can actually see what is and isn’t a recant.