Federal appeals panel rejects Davis challenge By: GREG BLUESTEIN and RUSS BYNUM Associated Press 11/05/10 5:01 PM EDT ATLANTA — A federal appeals panel on Thursday dismissed an appeal from Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, dealing him another setback in his attempt to prove he was wrongly convicted of the 1989 murder of a Savannah police officer.
The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule on the merits of Davis' case, but it contended he should appeal the case only to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling said reviewing Davis' appeal would be "in complete contradiction to the express intent of Congress."
The decision marks a new reversal for Davis, who has long claimed he could clear his name in the death of off-duty officer Mark MacPhail if a court gave him the chance to hear new evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court gave him a rare chance to put his innocence claim to the test — a chance afforded no other American in at least 50 years.
But U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled in August that the evidence presented by Davis' attorneys wasn't nearly strong enough to prove he's innocent. The judge wrote that while the evidence casts some additional doubt on his conviction, "it is largely smoke and mirrors."
Defense attorneys immediately signaled they would appeal, but it wasn't clear who could hear the challenge after all the twists the case had taken. Davis has been scheduled for execution three times since 2007, but was spared each time by courts agreeing to take another look at his case.
The panel's ruling Thursday tried to clarify the legal route Davis must take to avoid execution, saying his last chance rests with the Supreme Court "because he had exhausted his other avenues of relief."
Davis' camp contends Moore shouldn't have discounted testimony by witnesses who say another man confessed to MacPhail's killing after Davis was convicted. They also argue the judge wrongly blamed Davis' defense, and not prosecutors, for refusing to call another possible suspect to the stand.
MacPhail was working off-duty at a Savannah bus station on Aug. 19, 1989, when he was shot twice after rushing to help a homeless man who called for help after being attacked. Eyewitnesses identified Davis as the shooter at his trial, but no physical evidence tied him to the slaying. Davis insisted in court that he was running away when the shots were fired.
"Essentially we think we got a raw deal in the district court," said Jason Ewart, Davis' defense attorney. "We weren't allowed to call all of our witnesses and were held accountable for witnesses the state didn't call."
Mark MacPhail Jr., the slain officer's 21-year-old son, said his family was "cautiously optimistic" that the 11th Circuit's ruling would bring Davis' long and winding case closer to resolution.
"It's one step, hopefully, closer to an ultimatum, an end, but we don't want to get our hopes up and just get hurt in the end," MacPhail said. > Davis' case has attracted international attention, including support from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Amnesty International and dignitaries such as former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI.
Davis' sister Martina Correia said his family would keep fighting until he's declared innocent, an issue she said the courts have been afraid to confront. "It's like passing a hot potato," she said. "Troy's case opens a big Pandora's box about what's wrong with the criminal justice system, and a lot of people just want to keep that box closed."