Mother waits for peace in son's murder

COLUMBUS, Ga. --- A cigarette smolders in Anneliese MacPhail's ashtray, and she looks at it mournfully. Although she's tried to quit smoking so many times since her son was shot dead 20 years ago, she lights up again with every twist in the case against his convicted killer.

"My nerves are shot," she said Wednesday, sitting in the kitchen where she watched her son grow up. "I can't believe it was 20 years ago today. I've been reliving every minute of it. I just keep seeing his face."

Mark MacPhail, a Savannah police officer, was shot to death in 1989 while working off-duty after he rushed to the aid of a homeless man who had been attacked. A jury sentenced Troy Davis to die for the murder two years later, but the case has been in the legal world's version of purgatory since then.

Anneliese MacPhail, meanwhile, has been someplace worse. "It's hell," she says.

The case has become a national flashpoint for death penalty critics who argue Mr. Davis is the victim of mistaken identity. His attorneys have managed to delay his execution three times, and this week the Supreme Court ordered a new hearing that gives Mr. Davis the chance to present evidence his lawyers say could exonerate him.

They say they'll show that several witnesses at Mr. Davis' trial have since recanted, and others who did not testify have said another man confessed to the killing.

"Our witnesses are strong," says Jason Ewart, one of Mr. Davis' attorneys. "They'll come to court and tell their story."

Mr. Davis has been buoyed by appeals from high-profile officials to stop his execution. Among them: former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and a group of 27 former federal prosecutors and judges that includes former FBI Director William Sessions.

Prosecutors insist the case is closed and they stand by the verdict. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in a sharply worded dissent to the court's ruling, noted that federal and state courts have vetted the case and repeatedly thrown out Mr. Davis' appeal. Justice Scalia called Mr. Davis' appeal a "sure loser."

Mrs. MacPhail, frustrated by the litany of delays, is quick to agree.

"Angry is not even the word. Disgusted is not even the word," she said. "The jury convicted him. I have no doubt it was Troy Davis."

She still lives in the tidy brick ranch on the outskirts of Columbus where she moved after her husband, a career soldier, died of a heart attack at the age of 43. She was left to raise Mark and his four siblings -- all 18 or younger -- on her own.

Mark joined the Army Rangers, but after he got married, he decided he wanted a more stable lifestyle. He moved to Savannah and joined the police force, but would often make the cross-state journey to spend time with his mother.

One visit stands out in her memory: It was the summer of 1989. Mark, growing serious, asked if she thought his father would be proud of him, even though he left the military. Of course, came Mrs. MacPhail's response. That was the last time she ever saw him.

Her mind flits forward to the 1991 trial and the frustrating delays that followed.

"He should have been dead two years ago," she says, her voice trembling. "Every delay is awful for us every time. I'm not saying Davis' family isn't suffering either. But Davis had a choice. Mark didn't."