ATLANTA — Supporters of Troy Davis made a last-ditch effort Monday to stop his execution for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer, asking the state pardons board to grant him clemency.
A spokesman for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which has the power to change death sentences but rarely does, said it would not issue a decision before today.
Defense attorneys and the victim’s family both said they were cautiously optimistic that the five-member panel would side with them.
Davis, 42, has long claimed he’s innocent of killing Mark MacPhail, and the questions surrounding his case have attracted a host of high-profile supporters. After decades of legal wrangling, Davis is set to be put to death by lethal injection Wednesday, the fourth time in four years the state has tried to execute him.
Inside the closed-door meeting, a parade of attorneys and supporters asked the board to spare Davis’ life. Defense attorney Stephen Marsh said the legal team told the board there was too much substantial doubt about Davis’ guilt to allow the execution to go forward.
The victim’s relatives said they asked the board to reject Davis’ bid so they can have peace.
“A future was taken from me. A future we would have had together, the future he would have had with his family,” said a tearful Madison MacPhail, who was a toddler when her father was slain. “I believe the death penalty is the correct source of justice.”
Outside, dozens of Davis’ supporters hoisted a massive “Save Troy Davis” sign and formed a makeshift drum line at one entrance to the building. At another entrance, a somber
prayer vigil was held on his behalf.
Davis has captured worldwide attention because of the doubt his supporters have raised over whether he killed MacPhail, who was shot while rushing to help a homeless man who had been attacked. Several of the witnesses who helped convict him at his 1991 trial have backed off their testimony or recanted. Others who did not testify say another man at the scene admitted to the shooting.
The U.S. Supreme Court even granted Davis a hearing to prove his innocence, the first time it had done so for a death row inmate in at least 50 years, but Davis couldn’t persuade a lower federal judge to grant him a new trial. The Supreme Court did not review his case.
Federal appeals courts and the Georgia Supreme Court have upheld his conviction, leaving the parole board as his last chance.
The pardons board in 2007 decided to delay Davis’ execution for 90 days to grant the courts more time to review the case. A year later, it denied clemency and allowed his execution to go forward. Since then, three new members have been appointed.
“We are hopeful this tremendous outpouring of support will demonstrate there’s such a huge concern about this case, and that this message will resonate with them,” said Laura Moye, of Amnesty International, who delivered thousands of petitions in support of Davis to the board last week.
Among those who support Davis’ clemency request are former President Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. A host of conservative figures have advocated on his behalf, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, former Justice Department official Larry Thompson and one-time FBI Director William Sessions.
Attorneys said the board heard from Quiana Glover, who said she was at a friend’s house in June 2009 when another man told her he killed MacPhail, and Brenda Forrest, a juror who helped convict Davis in 1991 but is now having second thoughts.
“I feel, emphatically, that Mr. Davis cannot be executed under these circumstances,” Forrest said in an affidavit presented to the board.
MacPhail was shot to death Aug. 19, 1989, after rushing to help Larry Young, a homeless man who was pistol-whipped in a Burger King parking lot. Prosecutors say Davis was with another man who was demanding that Young give him a beer when Davis pulled out a handgun and bashed Young with it.
In June 2010, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. heard from two witnesses who said they falsely incriminated Davis and from two others who said another man had confessed to being the killer. Moore said the evidence cast some doubt but that it was “largely smoke and mirrors” and not enough to vindicate Davis or grant him a new trial.
Prosecutors say that ballistics evidence links Davis to the shooting and that many of the concerns about witness testimony were raised during the trial.
The allegations that someone else later confessed to the shooting, they say, are inconsistent and inadmissible in court.