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Ex DA: Doubt, recantations 'manufactured' in Troy Davis case

11:15 AM, Sep 21, 2011   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Doubt about the Troy Davis case is largely "manufactured," the district attorney who prosecuted Davis 20 years ago told 11Alive on Tuesday.

The prosecutor in the Troy Davis murder trial talked extensively with 11Alive News' Brenda Wood Tuesday, only hours after the Georgia pardons board refused to spare Davis from the death penalty.

Spencer Lawton is the former district attorney for Georgia's Eastern Judicial Circuit. He prosecuted the Troy Davis case in 1991.

RELATED: Troy Davis denied clemency by pardon board

"There are two Troy Davis cases," Lawton said during his conversation with Wood.  "One is the case in court.  One is the case in the realm of public relations."

TIMELINE: The Troy Davis Case

In a wide-ranging interview, Lawton panned criticism at every turn in the case. When asked about recanted testimony of seven of the nine witnesses, he was quick to point out that the witnesses themselves never appeared in a court to recant and that U.S. District Judge William Moore picked apart nearly each affidavit they signed.

Some were not under oath. Some did not directly recant trial testimony, he said.

Lawton cast scrutiny on Amnesty International and Davis's defense team for rounding up recantations, presenting them all at once as Davis's preliminary execution date approached.

"It doesn't strike me as improbable that with the passage of time a witness could be approached by a well versed and articulate person whose job it is to get a recantation from them and talk them into a certain amount of present uncertainty about their prior testimony," Lawton said. "That gets the camel's nose in the tent."

Lawton also took issue with claims by Davis' supporters that there was little to no physical evidence indicating that Davis shot and killed Officer Mark MacPhail.

Davis was convicted in the shooting of another man on the same day MacPhail was shot. That conviction has never been disputed. But, the gun that fired the shots in both crimes was never recovered.

"There is ballistic evidence based upon the cartridges fired from the gun," Lawton said. "The cartridges match."

Some of Davis' supporters have indicated that another man, Sylvester Coles, is responsible for the death of MacPhail.

Lawton said that's just not plausible. "There is no evidence against Sylvester Coles," he said.

"These people who hold themselves out as interested in nothing but fairness are willing to have Sylvester Coles condemned for this murder on far less evidence than has been introduced against Troy Davis," Lawton said.

During his conversation with Wood, Lawton lamented that Davis' death penalty sentence has turned into a political issue and one not based on the facts of the case, or Georgia law.

"It has nothing to do with Troy Davis," Lawton said. "It has everything to do with the death penalty."

"I'm not a fan of the death penalty," he added. "It is a component of Georgia's law. I was district attorney.  My duty is to uphold the law."

"I presented the case and the law to the jury and this is what they decided," he said.

Now retired, Lawton and his wife split their time between Atlanta and Savannah.

Lawton also prosecuted perhaps the other most famous case in Savannah history, the Jim Williams case popularized in the book and subsequent motion picture "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Ironically, Davis's case is the only death penalty case he ever won.

"There's nothing pleasing about any of this. I'm no fan of the death penalty. This is not something I like," Lawton said. "But we live in an unpleasant world, and a police officer was murdered. The consequences that derive from that fact can't be happy."

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