The U.S. Supreme Court, in a stunning ruling last August granting Davis his hearing, said Moore must decide whether new evidence "clearly establishes" Davis' innocence.
Davis attorney Jason Ewart told Moore that any reasonable juror would not convict Davis today after hearing the new evidence presented this week. That includes the recantations of four prosecution witnesses who earlier had testified they either saw Davis kill MacPhail or said Davis told them he did it. Those witnesses now say they were threatened and coerced into giving false testimony.
Ewart also expressed confidence in Benjamin Gordon, a relative of Coles', who testified for the first time Wednesday that he witnessed Coles gun down MacPhail.
Beth Burton, the lead attorney for the state, argued that there remains overwhelming evidence of Davis' guilt. She then ticked off the names of at least five prosecution witnesses who were not called this week, saying their testimony against Davis remains unchallenged.
"This was their case," Burton told Moore. "The standard is extremely high. ... They have not met it."
For much of Thursday, state attorneys called current and former Savannah police officers who investigated the murder case and the two lead prosecutors. "Absolutely not," former Chatham County District Attorney Spencer Lawton said resolutely when asked if he asked witnesses to give perjured testimony against Davis.
Lt. Gregory Ramsey, the lead detective, testified he carried out a "very meticulous and careful" investigation.
"I was in no rush just to pick the first guy we got our hands on," Ramsey said of Davis. "I wanted the right guy."
The 28-year law enforcement veteran added, "I'd rather the right guy get away a hundred times" than charge the wrong person.
Ramsey said that a number of witnesses gave "strikingly similar descriptions on how the shooter was dressed." For the most part, he said, witnesses told police the shooter was wearing a white T-shirt and dark pants, which other witnesses said Davis was wearing that evening.
Ramsey and other investigators steadfastly maintained they did not coerce or threaten witnesses to try to pin the murder on Davis. "You're trying to seek their honest responses and get to the bottom of the issue," Ramsey said. "You don't suggest to them. You want to know what they had heard or seen."
Davis' lawyers, dating back to the 1991 trial, have contended that Coles was the real triggerman. Coles was at the Burger King parking lot with Davis the night MacPhail was killed and was seen earlier with a revolver. Coles, who has denied killing MacPhail, was the first witness to come forward to police and implicate Davis in the killing.
Davis' lawyers did not call Coles to the stand this week, and Moore made them pay for it. He ruled out testimony by a number of witnesses who would have said Coles told them he killed MacPhail, on the grounds it was inadmissible hearsay. Moore told Davis' lawyers they could have gotten around that by calling Coles to the stand and giving him the chance to rebut that testimony.
"Here's one of the most critical witnesses to Davis' defense," Moore said. "Mr. Coles is available to testify and you don't call him. Mr. Coles should have been called by you."
Philip Horton, one of Davis' lawyers, said the legal team tried unsuccessfully to serve Cole with a subpoena on Wednesday, soon after Moore said he might not give any weight to hearsay evidence. Too late, Moore shot back, noting the hearing had been set months in advance.
Moore made his ruling with Quianna Glover, a Savannah woman, seated a few feet away on the witness stand. In a signed affidavit, Glover has said Coles told her a year ago he killed MacPhail. "This [expletive] is killing me," Coles told her, according to Glover's affidavit. But Glover stepped down from the witness stand without testifying after Moore's decision.