JACKSON, Ga. – On Highway 36 in Jackson, Ga. the truck stop across from the Georgia Diagnostic Prison is a busy place. On Wednesday morning truckers were gassing up; commuters were getting their coffee. For the most part it’s an average day. But at 7 p.m. this evening, death row inmate Troy Davis is scheduled to die by lethal injection inside the prison.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s execution, supporters of Davis staged mass marches, protests and rallies. Those calling for a halt to his execution include everyday people, death penalty advocates and opponents alike, from President Jimmy Carter to Pope Benedict. All of them saying there’s too much doubt about Davis guilt for the state to move ahead with the execution.
Davis was convicted for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. At the time, MacPhail was off duty working a security detail. Investigators say as he got off his shift, MacPhail came across a homeless man being attacked. According to police, MacPhail went to his aid but was shot in the face and chest.
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Witnesses put Davis and another man at the Burger King parking lot in Savannah. They testified Davis was the triggerman. Prosecutors presented shell casings at the trial. They said those casings matched those of a previous shooting earlier that night. Davis was convicted in that previous shooting. In 1991, Davis was convicted for the MacPhail murder and was sentenced to death.
Years of appeals
Davis has maintained his innocence through the years. Seven of the nine witnesses who testified against Davis later recanted or changed their statements. Several claimed police coercion. One of those witnesses, Jeffrey Sapp, said, “I got tired of them harassing me… I told them that Troy told me he did it, but it wasn’t true… I didn’t want to have any more problems with the cops, so I testified against Troy.”
Davis’ defense also claims a lack of physical evidence. The murder weapon was never recovered. All of it was presented during previous appeals and attempts at a retrial. Those attempts failed.
Prosecutors have been resolute. Joining them are the police and family of MacPhail. All say they have no doubt that Davis is the killer and deserves death.
Davis had one last chance at clemency on Monday. The Georgia Pardons and Parole Board heard from both the defense and prosecution. On Tuesday it denied Davis clemency. With virtually all of his legal options now exhausted, Tuesday’s decision was seen as the one final shot to have Davis’s sentence commuted to life in prison instead of death. Georgia’s governor can not intervene.
Two different visions of justice
Now in a matter of hours, the years of appeals, moral debates about the death penalty and pleas from both families will come to a head. I’ve spoken to relatives of both Davis and MacPhail. All want justice, but their visions of justice differ.
Before the clemency hearing Davis’s nephew, DeJuan Davis-Correia told me the justice they were seeking would help both families.
“We have the utmost respect for that family. I also pray at night for that family. We hope they find understanding in their hearts that we are actually trying to get the wrong person out of jail and the right person in,” said Davis-Correia.
Following Monday’s hearing the family MacPhail left behind expressed their feelings. Joining his widow Joan, were his son, daughter and mother. After years of delays and hearings, they said they were thirsty for justice, not blood.
“We have lived this for 22 years. We know what the truth is and for someone to ludicrously say he [Davis] is a victim? We are the victims. Look at us. We have put up with this stuff for 22 years and it’s time for justice today,” said Joan MacPhail
Davis has declined to request a specific last meal. Source
Proclaiming his innocence, Troy Davis was put to death by lethal injection on Wednesday night, his life — and the hopes of supporters worldwide — prolonged by several hours while the Supreme Court reviewed but then declined to act on a petition from his lawyers to stay the execution.
TimesCast | Inmate Denied Clemency
Drama at a Georgia Prison
Documents Document: Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles Decision and Statement
Georgia Pardons Board Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate (September 21, 2011)
Digital Age Drives Rally to Keep a Georgia Inmate From Execution (September 17, 2011)
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Savannah Morning News, via Associated Press
Troy Anthony Davis entering Chatham County Superior Court in Georgia on Aug. 22, 1991, during his trial in the shooting death of an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail. More Photos »
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Mr. Davis, 42, who was convicted of murdering a Savannah police officer 22 years ago, entered the death chamber shortly before 11 p.m., four hours after the scheduled time. He died at 11:08.
This final chapter before his execution had become an international symbol of the battle over the death penalty and racial imbalance in the justice system.
“It harkens back to some ugly days in the history of this state,” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, who visited Mr. Davis on Monday.
Mr. Davis remained defiant at the end, according to reporters who witnessed his death. He looked directly at the members of the family of Mark MacPhail, the officer he was convicted of killing, and told them they had the wrong man.
“I did not personally kill your son, father, brother,” he said. “All I can ask is that you look deeper into this case so you really can finally see the truth.”
He then told his supporters and family to “keep the faith” and said to prison personnel, “May God have mercy on your souls; may God bless your souls.”
One of the witnesses, a radio reporter from WSB in Atlanta, said it appeared that the MacPhail family “seemed to get some satisfaction” from the execution.
For Mr. Davis’s family and other supporters gathered in front of the prison, the final hours were mixed with hope, tears and exhaustion. The crowd was buoyed by the Supreme Court’s involvement, but crushed when the justices issued their one-sentence refusal to consider a stay.
When the news of his death came, the family left quietly and the 500 or so supporters began to pack up and leave their position across the state highway from the prison entrance. Mr. Davis’s body was driven out of the grounds about midnight.
During the evening, a dozen supporters of the death penalty, including people who knew the MacPhail family sat quietly, separated from the Davises and their supporters by a stretch of lawn and rope barriers.
The appeal to the Supreme Court was one of several last-ditch efforts by Mr. Davis on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, an official with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said that the vote by the Georgia parole board to deny clemency to Mr. Davis was so close that he hoped there might be a chance to save him from execution.
The official, Edward O. DuBose, president of the Georgia chapter, said the group had “very reliable information from the board members directly that the board was split 3 to 2 on whether to grant clemency.”
“The fact that that kind of division was in the room is even more of a sign that there is a strong possibility to save Troy’s life,” he said.
The N.A.A.C.P said it had been in contact with the Department of Justice on Wednesday, in the hope that the federal government would intervene on the basis of civil rights violations, meaning irregularities in the original investigation and at the trial.
Earlier in the day, his lawyers had asked the state for another chance to spare him: a lie detector test.
But the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole, which on Tuesday denied Mr. Davis’s clemency after a daylong hearing on Monday, quickly responded that there would be no reconsideration of the case, and the polygraph test was abandoned.
Mr. Davis’s supporters also reached out to the prosecutor in the original case and asked him to persuade the original judge to rescind the death order. Benjamin Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P, also tried to ask President Obama for a reprieve.