Protesters gather outside the building where Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles members are holding a hearing for death row inmate Troy Davis, in Atlanta, on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Davis is scheduled to die Wednesday for the 1989 slaying of off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer Mark MacPhail. (AP Photo/David Tulis)
The Georgia pardons board is likely to announce Tuesday whether it will grant leniency to condemned cop killer Troy Davis.
The board questioned Davis supporters about his claims of innocence and listened to the officer’s family tearfully ask for the execution during a daylong hearing Monday.
Davis, 42, has long claimed he’s innocent of killing Mark MacPhail in 1989 in Savannah, and the doubt about his guilt has attracted a host of high-profile supporters from the pope to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. After decades of legal wrangling, Davis is set to be put to death by injection Wednesday, the fourth time in four years his execution has been scheduled.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has the power to change death sentences but rarely does.
MacPhail’s family said after the hearing they asked the board to reject Davis’ clemency 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 killed. “I believe the death penalty is the correct source of justice.”
Inside the closed-door meeting, a parade of attorneys and supporters asked the board to spare Davis’ life. 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, other supporters were holding a somber prayer vigil on his behalf.
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. When MacPhail arrived to help, they say Davis had a smirk on his face when he shot the officer to death.
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. The high court set up a hearing, but Davis couldn’t convince 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, though, 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. “The very reputation and faith that this public has in its justice system is on the line.”
Among those who support Davis’ clemency request are former president Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. A host of conservative figures have also advocated on his behalf, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, ex-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 him 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.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Davis supporter who spoke at the hearing, said the board was attentive and peppered the speakers with questions. But he said it’s too hard to predict how the panel will decide.
“It’s a very difficult place to be. A man’s life hangs in the balance,” he said. “But we were very clear that an execution should not take place.”
Two of the panel’s five members have already reviewed the case several times: Gale Buckner, a former Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, and Robert Keller, the ex-chair of a Georgia prosecutors group. The other three have been appointed to the board since 2009. They are: James Donald, the former head of the Georgia Department of Corrections, Albert Murray, who led the state’s juvenile justice program, and Terry Barnard, a former Republican state lawmaker.
Prosecutors have stood by their case through the years. They say 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.
MacPhail’s relatives said there’s no question that prosecutors charged the right person.
“They heard the truth – which is the most important part. I believe they will rule in our favor,” said MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris. “He had ample time to prove his innocence and he failed.”
SOURCE: AP – Greg Bluestein