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Ga. executes Davis; supporters claim injustice

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections shows death row inmate Troy Davis. Georgia's pardons board on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, rejected clemency for Davis despite high-profile support for his claim that he was wrongly convicted of killing MacPhail in 1989. Davis is set to die on Wednesday, Sept. 21. It is the fourth time in four years his execution has been scheduled by Georgia officials. (AP Photo/Georgia Department of Corrections, File)

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections shows death row inmate Troy Davis. Georgia's pardons board on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, rejected clemency for Davis despite high-profile support for his claim that he was wrongly convicted of killing MacPhail in 1989. Davis is set to die on Wednesday, Sept. 21. It is the fourth time in four years his execution has been scheduled by Georgia officials. (AP Photo/Georgia Department of Corrections, File)

JACKSON — Georgia executed Troy Davis on Wednesday night for the murder of an off-duty police officer, a crime he denied committing right to the end as supporters around the world mourned and declared that an innocent man was put to death.

Defiant to the end, he told relatives of Mark MacPhail that his 1989 slaying was not his fault. "I did not have a gun," he insisted.

LAST WORDS

Troy Davis maintains his innocence until the end

JACKSON — Georgia inmate Troy Davis maintained his innocence until the very end, saying he did not kill an off-duty officer in 1989.

Davis made his final statement before he was executed at 11:08 p.m. Wednesday. Davis told the family of officer Mark MacPhail that he did not kill their son, father and brother. He said he didn't have a gun.

Davis claims of innocence drew worldwide support from hundreds of thousands of people. Courts, however, consistently ruled against him.

—The Associated Press

"For those about to take my life," he told prison officials, "may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls."

Davis was declared dead at 11:08. The lethal injection began about 15 minutes earlier, after the Supreme Court rejected an 11th-hour request for a stay.

The court did not comment on its order, which came about four hours after it received the request and more than three hours after the planned execution time.

Though Davis' attorneys said seven of nine key witnesses against him disputed all or parts of their testimony, state and federal judges repeatedly ruled against granting him a new trial. As the court losses piled up Wednesday, his offer to take a polygraph test was rejected and the pardons board refused to give him one more hearing.

Davis' supporters staged vigils in the U.S. and Europe, declaring "I am Troy Davis" on signs, T-shirts and the Internet. Some tried increasingly frenzied measures, urging prison workers to stay home and even posting a judge's phone number online, hoping people will press him to put a stop to the lethal injection. President Barack Obama deflected calls for him to get involved.

"They say death row; we say hell no!" protesters shouted outside the Jackson prison where Davis was to be executed. In Washington, a crowd outside the Supreme Court yelled the same chant.

As many as 700 demonstrators gathered outside the prison as a few dozen riot police stood watch, but the crowd thinned as the night wore on and the outcome became clear. The scene turned eerily quiet as word of the high court's decision spread, with demonstrators hugging, crying, praying, holding candles and gathering around Davis' family.

Laura Moye of Amnesty International said the execution would be "the best argument for abolishing the death penalty."

"The state of Georgia is about to demonstrate why government can't be trusted with the power over life and death," she said.

About 10 counterdemonstrators also were outside the prison, showing support for the death penalty and the family of Mark MacPhail, the man Davis was convicted of killing in 1989. MacPhail's son and brother attended the execution.

"He had all the chances in the world," his mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said of Davis in a telephone interview. "It has got to come to an end."

At a Paris rally, many of the roughly 150 demonstrators carried signs emblazoned with Davis' face. "Everyone who looks a little bit at the case knows that there is too much doubt to execute him," Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International said at the protest.

Davis' execution has been stopped three times since 2007, but on Wednesday the 42-year-old ran out of legal options.

As his last hours ticked away, an upbeat and prayerful Davis turned down an offer for a special last meal as he met with friends, family and supporters.

"Troy Davis has impacted the world," his sister Martina Correia said at a news conference. "They say, 'I am Troy Davis,' in languages he can't speak."

His attorney Stephen Marsh said Davis would have spent part of Wednesday taking a polygraph test if pardons officials had taken his offer seriously.

"He doesn't want to spend three hours away from his family on what could be the last day of his life if it won't make any difference," Marsh said.

Amnesty International says nearly 1 million people have signed a petition on Davis' behalf. His supporters include former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, a former FBI director, the NAACP, several conservative figures and many celebrities, including hip-hop star Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.

"I'm trying to bring the word to the young people: There is too much doubt," rapper Big Boi, of the Atlanta-based group Outkast, said at a church near the prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court gave Davis an unusual opportunity to prove his innocence in a lower court last year, though the high court itself did not hear the merits of the case.

He was convicted in 1991 of killing MacPhail, who was working as a security guard at the time. MacPhail rushed to the aid of a homeless man who prosecutors said Davis was bashing with a handgun after asking him for a beer. Prosecutors said Davis had a smirk on his face as he shot the officer to death in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah.

No gun was ever found, but prosecutors say shell casings were linked to an earlier shooting for which Davis was convicted.

Witnesses placed Davis at the crime scene and identified him as the shooter, but several of them have recanted their accounts and some jurors have said they've changed their minds about his guilt. Others have claimed a man who was with Davis that night has told people he actually shot the officer.

"Such incredibly flawed eyewitness testimony should never be the basis for an execution," Marsh said. "To execute someone under these circumstances would be unconscionable."

State and federal courts, however, have repeatedly upheld Davis' conviction. One federal judge dismissed the evidence advanced by Davis' lawyers as "largely smoke and mirrors."

"He has had ample time to prove his innocence," said MacPhail's widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris. "And he is not innocent."

The last motion filed by Davis' attorneys in Butts County Court challenged testimony from two witnesses and disputed testimony from the expert who linked the shell casings to the earlier shooting involving Davis. Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson and the Georgia Supreme Court rejected the appeal, and prosecutors said the filing was just a delay tactic.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which helped lead the charge to stop the execution, said it considered asking Obama to intervene, even though he cannot grant Davis clemency for a state conviction.

Press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying that although Obama "has worked to ensure accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system," it was not appropriate for him "to weigh in on specific cases like this one, which is a state prosecution."

Dozens of protesters outside the White House called on the president to step in, and about 12 were arrested for disobeying police orders.

Davis was not the only U.S. inmate put to death Wednesday evening. In Texas, white supremacist gang member Lawrence Russell Brewer was put to death for the 1998 dragging death of a black man, James Byrd Jr., one of the most notorious hate crime murders in recent U.S. history.

Davis' best chance may have come last year, in a hearing ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the first time in 50 years that justices had considered a request to grant a new trial for a death row inmate.

The high court set a tough standard for Davis to exonerate himself, ruling that his attorneys must "clearly establish" Davis' innocence — a higher bar to meet than prosecutors having to prove guilt. After the hearing judge ruled in prosecutors' favor, the justices didn't take up the case.

The execution drew widespread criticism in Europe, where politicians and activists made last-minute pleas for a stay.

Spencer Lawton, the district attorney who secured Davis' conviction in 1991, said he was embarrassed for the judicial system — not because of the execution, but because it took so long to carry out.

"What we have had is a manufactured appearance of doubt which has taken on the quality of legitimate doubt itself. And all of it is exquisitely unfair," said Lawton, who retired as Chatham County's head prosecutor in 2008. "The good news is we live in a civilized society where questions like this are decided based on fact in open and transparent courts of law, and not on street corners."

Comments

mary 2 years, 10 months ago

It is sad that it has taken 20 years for this cold blooded killer to get his due justice. There should be a limited time frame for appeals in such cases.

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Sthrnldy 2 years, 10 months ago

Davis was given 20 years to prove his innocence. His lawyers, etal could not produce anything that was credible and his appeal has been seen by countless courts. The Supreme Court even saw there was no merit to his appeal. President Obama was obviously extensively briefed and did not intervene because the proof of his innocence did not exist.

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Stu 2 years, 10 months ago

The bottom line in this case: there was no physical evidence, seven of nine eyewitnesses recanted, and there is substantial evidence that one of the two remaining witnesses was the actual shooter. If there was ever a case where there was reasonable doubt, this was it.

If Georgia invested a fraction as much energy and ingenuity in fixing our traffic, pollution, and economic problems as it does in executing and deporting people, this state would be a far better place to live.

We consider cold-blooded, premeditated murders to be the most heinous crimes. But what form of killing could be more cold-blooded and premeditated than the death penalty?

It took a split second and a single shooter to murder Officer MacPhail. it took 22 years and dozens of sins of commission and omission by multiple officials and institutions to put Troy Davis to death. And we are all complicit for letting it happen. Shame on Georgia!

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Award88 2 years, 10 months ago

Except for the little fact that the State actually had 34 witnesses. Only two recantations were even considered remotely credible, and the courts ended up ruling that their recantations were not genuine enough to overturn the verdict. As far as no physical evidence, what about the shell casings that were found. You know, the shell casings that matched the shell casings in a shooting just prior to the killing of the officer. In the previous shooting Troy Davis was found guilty of being the shooter. A fact that has not been appealed after he was convicted. So you mean to tell me that he used a gun to shoot someone and a short time afterwards, that same night, someone else got the same gun and used it to shoot the police officer. And let's dig deeper into some of the eyewitnesses who didn't recant. Three army guardsman were in their vehicle, in the drive through all three positively identified Troy Davis as the killer, all through testified that after shooting the officer once, he went over to the officer, while he was on the ground, and shot him again at point blank range, all while smiling. These three witnesses never recanted. There was plenty of evidence to justify his being executed. The courts up and down the judicial system upheld the verdict and sentence for 20 years. The real tragedy is it took 20 years to finally carry out the sentence for a cop killer. I also find it sad that while everybody was talking about how Troy Davis was spending his final hours with family and how he had turned down a request for a last meal, opting instead for the normal prison food, nobody mentions the fact that Officer MacPhail never had the opportunity to spend his final hours with his family. He never had the opportunity for a final meal. It took 20 years, but justice has finally been served.

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ssilover1 2 years, 10 months ago

No one knows for sure except Mr. Davis and God. Let him rest in peace and let peace come to the tortured family of the slain policeman. God bless all the family members who weep.

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Stu 2 years, 10 months ago

The problem with dismissing the seven recantations because the judge found the witnesses not to be credible is that it is these same witnesses' original testimony that is the basis for Mr. Davis's conviction. If they aren't credible witnesses, he should never have been convicted in the first place.

There is such doubt in this case that Bob Barr and Williams Sessions, who are hardly known as bleeding heart liberals, have both repeatedly stated publicly that Mr. Davis should not have been executed.

Because of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty law that was passed under President Clinton (who liked to posture as being tough on crime by supporting the death penalty), the rules in the appeal hearings of Mr. Davis's case were stacked against him. For example, in the hearing last year, the standard was that his lawyers had to prove his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt -- the very opposite of the normal standard.

As for Mr. Davis' family, it has hardly had a bed of roses. Both his parents and his aunt died while he was in prisons, and his sister is fighting breast cancer. His own funeral will be the first family funeral he will be allowed to attend.

Incidentally, Mr. Davis' father was a cop -- something that I have never seen mentioned by the press.

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kevin 2 years, 9 months ago

If any injustice was done, it was the jury who convicted him. If an eyewitness lied, than that person or persons will also be judged accordingly when they die. You should be 100% sure without any doubt to convict a person to death. It isn't the system, it is the people. A trial by jury decided this and evidently there was NOT enough evidence to overturn the conviction. Maybe the lawyers need to be smarter in these cases. Only the people who were present during this trial will know what went on. I do not listen to people on the street who were not involved in the trial. Those people are using this an a reason to stop the death penalty and that is wrong.

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