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Defense witnesses cite fear in the Troy Anthony Davis evidence hearing. Veteran Savannah police say they never threatened witnesses.

By Tina A. Brown
SAVANNAH _After years of public silence witnesses, who recanted court testimony and statements to police that they’d witnessed Troy Anthony Davis fatally shoot Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989, testified Wednesday that they’d fingered Davis because they feared local police.

The defense witnesses some of whom had admitted criminal histories and spoke so softly that U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. ordered them to speak up; told a courtroom full of MacPhail and Davis supporters that they had not told the truth during Davis’ murder trial and in sworn affidavits. Their collective testimonies helped Chatham County prosecute Davis, who was sentenced by a jury to death in 1991. Davis’ sentence of execution has been stayed three times.

Conversely, the prosecution witnesses, mostly Savannah-Chatham Metro Police detectives, also testified Wednesday. They said repeatedly that they had not threatened the Davis witnesses or forced them to say they had witnessed Davis shoot MacPhail; or heard him brag about it later.

Their recantations led to a historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last year to return the case to the local jurisdiction for Wednesday’s evidentiary hearing. The unprecedented case has prominent onlookers, such as Benjamin Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International, predicting that the outcome of the hearing might change the way U.S. courts weigh eyewitness testimony. No weapons were confiscated by police
in the Davis case. DNA evidence has not been introduced to the court linking Davis to the incident.

The hearing resumes today at 9:30 a.m. at the Tomochichi federal courthouse on Wright Square in
Savannah. Attorney Stephen Marsh leads the defense team. Assistant Georgia Attorney General Beth Burton is in charge of the prosecution.

Defense witness Antoine Williams was a limo driver at the time of the murder. He testified that he doesn’t know who shot MacPhail. He recalled in open court that he was sitting in his vehicle, which had triple-tinted windows, when he heard the shooting in a downtown Savannah parking lot.
“I was ducking peeking,” he said, adding that he could not identify the person who killed MacPhail.

Immediately after the fatal shooting in August 1989, Williams said he moved to New York. He said when
asked by Savannah police what he had witnessed, he testified that he told authorities, “I wasn’t sure who
the gentleman was who shot.”

Questioned why he had signed statements that Davis was the shooter, Williams said, “I can’t read or spell.”

At Davis trial, he said he identified Davis as the shooter; because authorities “had told me when I come in
(the courtroom), they wanted me to point out Davis. ..I remembered the officer getting shot, I had nightmares
about it.”

Kevin McQueen, another witness, said he initially testified against Davis to settle a score after the two men had
a confrontation in the Chatham County jail. “He got the best of me. I was mad at him.’’

McQueen said he lied to police when he told them that Davis had confessed to him. “There’s no truth to
those statements,’’ he said. In exchange for his testimony, McQueen said he received a lighter sentence
after being convicted of robbery.

Asked why he changed his story. “What did you expect to gain?”

“Peace of mind, I guess,’’ McQueen replied.

Jeffrey Sapp, an admitted narcotics dealer and friend of Davis, testified that he learned of the MacPhail
shooting when throngs of police officers came into his neighborhood to investigate the fatal shooting.

“I was scared. I told them I didn’t know nothing. It was 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.’’ He said the officers
told him he had to come down to the police station for questioning. He said four or five
police officers surrounded him during the interview. “They were so emotional, upset
and angry,’’ and he told them to say Davis had confessed to him. ..

“I was so scared. I’d tell them anything they wanted to hear. .. They told me what happened. ..I wasn’t anywhere near the scene. They was in my face. They had bad breath. I just wanted to sign (the statement) and go.’’

Darrell Collins was 16-years-old at the time of the murder. He said he was with Davis and Sylvester “Red”
Coles, another man who other witnesses say initiated the confrontation with a man over an alcoholic
beverage outside a city pool hall when the trio had been playing pool.. Collins testified that he and Davis
were being “nosy” when they followed Coles and Larry Young who got into a “heated,’’ “loud,’’
argument. Collins testified that he heard Coles tell the man, “give me a beer, (expletive). You don’t know me
I’ll (expletive) smoke you. The man was scared and tried to get away.”

Prior to the confrontation, Collins testified that Coles had a gun, which Collins testified that he removed
from a car and hid behind a building.
Collins said he saw the police officer MacPhail come around the building and “I ran off.” He said he did
not see the shooting.
Collins testified that he lied against Davis because the police said they charge him with being an accessory
to murder. The investigating officers, he said, “got real mad.”

“I told them it was Red not Troy,’’ Collins testified, adding he changed his story during his interview with
police. “I was scared. That’s what they wanted me to say.’’

By mid-afternoon Wednesday, the Davis defense team concluded its witness testimony. The prosecution
called several police department detectives to rebut the previous testimony. The officers to the witness told
vastly different stories about how they obtained the eyewitnesses statements
and trial testimony.

Lt. Carl Ramey testified that Sapp volunteered a statement against Davis during the Davis investigation.
Ramey testified that Sapp flagged down his vehicle and said, “Y’all here because of Troy.’’

Ramey said he had didn’t know Sapp. He said Sapp told him that Craig Young talked to Davis who told him about the murder. He said he
never yelled at Sapp during the police interview and he didn’t tell him what to say. Ramey said Sapp volunteered other witnesses and his
statement was documented by a stenographer.

Sgt. John Wichcomb testified that he interviewed Antoine Williams during the homicide investigation.
He said he never coerced his testimony or threatened him.

Tina A. Brown is a freelance veteran journalist based in Savannah.