One of the most controversial death penalty cases in the state’s history ended Wednesday night as Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis, a convicted cop killer who adamantly maintained his innocence.
Davis, found guilty of murder in the 1989 shooting of Columbus High graduate Mark A. MacPhail, was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m.
Strapped to the gurney in the Death House here, Davis in his final moments addressed MacPhail's representatives seated on the front row: "Despite the situation you are in, I'm not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother," he said. "I am innocent."
"The incident that happened that night is not my fault," he added. "I did not have a gun."
Davis, who spoke quickly but calmly, implored those present to "look deeper into this case, so that you really can finally see the truth."
"I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight," he said. "To those of you about to take my life, may God have mercy on all of your souls. And may God bless your souls."
After delivering his final remarks, Davis leaned back and stared upward. His eyes closed partially, and he yawned once before his expression became frozen.
Outside the death-row prison in Jackson, police in riot gear stood guard as a mass of Davis' supporters protested the execution.
Earlier in the day it appeared Davis’ appeals were running out, but then the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case, delaying the execution that had been set for 7 p.m. Wednesday.
At 10:04 p.m., MacPhail’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, got a call from the Georgia attorney general’s office saying the stay was denied, paving the way for the execution.
Twice during the delay, Mrs. MacPhail was interviewed live by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“I would like to close this book,” she told Cooper. She said the ordeal has been “hell.”
In Jackson, crowds protesting Davis’ execution cheered upon hearing the high court had agreed to review the case. That upswell in enthusiasm followed tense moments during which at least three protesters across the street from the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison were arrested as the crowd grew unruly.
After that, an army of corrections officers in riot gear deployed in front of the prison gate. The law enforcement presence later swelled as two convoys of Georgia state patrol cruisers, lights flashing and sirens blaring, pulled up on the north side of Georgia Highway 36 to seal off access to the prison. In the media area separated from the road by a fence, a prison representative told reporters they had five minutes to decide whether to stay in the secured area or leave. If they left, they would not be allowed back in.
From then on, black-clad officers in helmets and body armor, armed with batons and other riot gear, were arrayed across the prison entrance, as if expecting a charge. More stood with plastic wrist restraints, prepared to make arrests.
The quiet inside the Death House as Davis breathed his last was in stark contrast to a day of protests by Davis supporters around the world who feared the state had sanctioned the killing of an innocent man. Scores of people crowded a field near the prison in the hours leading up to the execution, singing and praying that Davis be spared the lethal injection.
“There are so many Troy Davises out there,” said Ellen Kubica, 28, who came all the way from Germany to protest Davis’ execution. “This case has shed a light on all the injustices of the death penalty: its racism, its classism, its bias and everything.”
Davis always denied firing the shots that killed MacPhail. He said Wednesday he was willing to take a polygraph test – sacrificing precious time with family – in a last-ditch effort to persuade the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare his life. The Georgia Department of Corrections denied that request Wednesday morning, without explanation. “We’re very disappointed that under the circumstances they wouldn’t make that happen,” said Stephen Marsh, one of Davis’ attorneys.
The execution came just two days after the pardons board denied Davis clemency, following a day of testimony in a closed-hearing in Atlanta. Defense attorneys sought to convince the five-member board that Davis’ guilt was too much in doubt to proceed with the execution. They pointed to several recent witness recantations, alleged police misconduct during the investigation and new testimony from a man who claimed he saw another man kill MacPhail. The pardons board declined a request Wednesday to reconsider its decision. Davis’ final appeals also were rebuffed. Davis’ case was remarkable even in Georgia, a state with a storied death penalty history that has affected capital punishment across the country. It stood out not just for the worldwide attention it generated, but its unusual procedural history, which included three previous stays of execution and a rare intervention in 2009 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yet at every turn, Davis ultimately failed to convince the courts of his innocence. A federal judge last year dismissed Davis’ claims as amounting to little more than “smoke and mirrors,” dealing a fatal blow to the defense.
Davis’ case rekinded the debate over the death penalty. The case shocked not only opponents of capital punishment but also some supporters. William S. Sessions, the former FBI director, argued the case had too many unresolved issues. Former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI also weighed in.
Amnesty International expressed outrage at the pardons board’s refusal to spare Davis, saying the case underscored the fallibility of the courts and fundamental problems with the death penalty.
“We like science to resolve things. This is always going to be gray, and therefore it pushes the death penalty question: Is the death penalty so worthwhile that it’s occasionally risking a gray case to forward to execution?” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. “Everybody’s got to admit there’s a one percent chance he might be innocent if not more, and that’s the disturbing thing about the death penalty. It’s never going to be 100 percent sure.”