TROY DAVIS PROTESTS: Mass of media, protesters swarm prison gates

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com, jmustian@ledger-enquirer.com, ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 22, 2011 

JACKSON, Ga. — The rain held off, but the people poured in.

For much of Wednesday, about as many media representatives occupied the grounds outside Georgia’s death-row prison as the protesters who came to oppose Troy Anthony Davis’ execution.

Added to the overall number was the security, including dozens of corrections officers, state troopers and county sheriff’s deputies.

A state helicopter regularly buzzed overhead, its propeller noise competing with protest chants and the drone of gas generators operated by TV news crews waiting to broadcast live reports.

Davis was the man whose face served as an emblem for death-penalty protesters, many of whom wore T-shirts that said “I AM TROY DAVIS.” But more often the star of the show was political activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, his signature gray hair swept back from his forehead, his blue suit tight and trim.

Speaking outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Sharpton in his first interview at 12:15 p.m. said Davis’ execution is moving forward on “flawed evidence.” Like other critics of the case, he cited the seven witnesses who in affidavits later recanted their testimony.

When the Ledger-Enquirer asked whether Davis was innocent, Sharpton said, “I feel that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that’s all you need.”

Sharpton initially was joined by about 100 people supporting clemency for Davis, who was convicted of murder in the 1989 slaying of Mark A. MacPhail, a Savannah, Ga., police officer and Columbus High graduate.

Davis was to be put to death in 2008, but an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court spared him. This time his appeals ran out.

“This time it’s going forward on the same flawed evidence. No DNA, no gun, no physical evidence,” Sharpton said of the execution. “This is unheard of in a democratic, civilized society.”

The protest

As a sweltering Wednesday during which rainstorms had been expected wore on, about 125 protesters filed into a roped-off field to hold vigil, chanting, praying and singing. Some waved signs saying “Free Troy Davis.” One man called for people to boycott Christmas if the execution went through.

“I’m not saying I know the truth, but my personal belief is, yes, he is innocent,” said Ellen Kubica, 28, a resident of Germany who came to support Davis. “There is so much doubt. You cannot say that (his conviction) was based on is still valid.”

Lynn Hopkins, a Davis supporter from Denver, said she visited Davis in prison Tuesday morning and was impressed by his demeanor.

“His faith is just unbelievable,” she said. “He’s incredibly strong and compassionate. His concern right now is for his sisters. He’s deeply concerned with how his death is going to hurt others.”

Added Hopkins, who is white: “White people especially just don’t know that this can really happen in this country.”

Standing alone

Across the field from the crowd protesting the execution, a woman stood alone.

Or sat at a picnic table and read a book, occasionally rising and walking to the yellow rope separating her from the mass of media more intently focused on the protesters, and gave an interview.

She was Janet Resisenwitz of Decatur, Ga., and she was the sole occupant of the space set aside for people supporting Davis’ execution.

Resisenwitz, 55, said she’s the mother of a Clarkston, Ga., police officer, Corey Lowe, and she believes those convicted of killing law enforcement officers should pay with their lives.

“They put their life on the line every single day,” she said of police officers. “Every day my daughter is out, she risks the chance of my grandchildren not having a mother.”

Her daughter’s 34, and has been in law enforcement about five years, she said. She was surprised other law enforcement families didn’t come out to stand in support of those related to MacPhail. But she was OK with being alone, where for hours she endured the heat and gladly granted interviews to any reporters curious enough to venture over and talk to her, though it usually took them some time to notice the lone woman secluded under the pines.

Finally, around 5:30 p.m., she was joined by about a dozen others, some wearing white T-shirts with MacPhail’s image.

Resisenwitz said she had not communicated with MacPhail’s family, but had hoped to see them: “They may be secluded somewhere, but my heart is with them and my prayers are with them.”

She arrived at noon, and would stay until she knew Davis was dead, she said: “I’m just waiting for justice to be done.”

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