Troy Davis execution nears in Georgia
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ATLANTA -- Hundreds of thousands of people are rallying behind Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis -- not just because they oppose capital punishment, but also because they believe that the state could put an innocent man to death.
The case is fraught with drama: The murder of an off-duty police officer. Conflicting eyewitness testimony. Last-minute court decisions sparing a condemned man's life, and global dignitaries who say they fear that an innocent man could die.
Mr. Davis has captured considerable attention because of the doubt raised over whether he killed Mark MacPhail in Savannah in 1989. The U.S. Supreme Court even granted Mr. 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 he couldn't persuade a judge to grant him a new trial.
The officer's family believes that there's no doubt that Mr. Davis killed Officer MacPhail, and prosecutors say the right man was convicted.
Mr. Davis is scheduled to die Wednesday, the fourth time his execution has been set in four years. He once came within two hours of being put to death. His attorneys say his legal appeals are exhausted, and the chances of his winning another reprieve have dwindled. Still, supporters hope to persuade Georgia's pardons board next week to spare his life.
Executing Mr. Davis "risks taking the life of an innocent man and would be a grave miscarriage of justice," said former President Jimmy Carter, a Georgia Democrat and death penalty foe who wrote a letter on Mr. Davis' behalf. "We believe that in this particular case, there's enough evidence to the contrary to prevent this execution from taking place," Mr. Carter said Tuesday.
Conservative figures have also become involved. Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who served under Republican former President George W. Bush, urged the pardons board to grant Mr. Davis clemency, because "it is clear now that the doubts plaguing his case can never be adequately addressed."
And former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said in a letter that "even for death penalty supporters such as myself, the level of doubt inherent in this case is troubling."
Officer MacPhail was working a late-night shift as a security guard on Aug. 19, 1989, when he saw a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped at a nearby Burger King parking lot. He rushed to help. Moments after Officer MacPhail approached Mr. Davis and two other men, he was shot in the face and the chest. He died before help arrived.
Witnesses identified Mr. Davis as the shooter, and shell casings were linked to an earlier shooting he was convicted of. There was no other physical evidence. No blood or DNA tied Mr. Davis to the crime, the weapon was never located, and several witnesses who testified at his 1991 trial have disputed all or parts of their testimony.
Prosecutors say many of the concerns about the witness testimony were raised during the trial, and allegations that someone else later confessed are inconsistent and inadmissible in court.
Those questions compelled anti-death penalty groups to get involved. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, started its campaign in February 2007. It printed a report looking at the case and sent it to thousands of members.
First Published September 16, 2011 12:00 am