Troy Davis executed after appeals fail


Guy Adams
Thursday 22 September 2011 07:17

He died the way he spent the last 22 years: vigorously protesting his innocence. Troy Davis, the death row prisoner at the centre of one of the most disputed cases in American legal history, lost his long-running legal battle shortly after 11pm.

The 42-year-old convicted murderer was strapped to a gurney and given a lethal injection half an hour after the US Supreme Court rejected his final request for a stay of execution. Fifteen minutes later, at 11.08pm [4.08am GMT], he was pronounced dead.

Addressing some of his last words to the family of his alleged victim, off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail, Davis insisted that the 1989 killing was not his fault. “"I was not responsible for what happened that night,” he said. “I did not have a gun. I was not the one who took the life of your father, son, brother."

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

It was a grizzly end to a case which has sparked international outrage, and the condemnation of organisations as varied as the European Union, Amnesty International, the Catholic Church, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A million people signed a petition calling for Davis to be spared.

A crowd of 700 supporters had gathered at Georgia State Diagnostic Prison, near the town of Jackson, where the execution chamber is located. They greeted confirmation of his death by crying, holding hands, and praying, in near silence.

Lawyers for Davis spent yesterday making frantic efforts to call a halt to proceedings. The Georgia Superior Court and Georgia Supreme Court both refused to issue a stay of execution, which had been scheduled and then cancelled four times in recent years.

For a time, it looked like the US Supreme Court might intervene, as they had done two years ago, when at the last minute it ordered Georgia to re-consider the conviction. This time highest court in the land delayed his execution for four hours, while it considered a petition, but ultimately rejected it, without citing a reason.

Earlier, prison authorities had refused to let Davis take a polygraph test which might add to the evidence supporting his case. His attorney Stephen Marsh, who was turned away at the gate, told reporters: “we came here to try and prove Mr Davis is innocent and unfortunately we were denied that opportunity.”

Not long afterwards, the condemned man’s pastor, Rev Raphael Warnock, was also prevented from paying him a visit during his final hours. No explanation was given “We wanted to do a pastoral visit, to offer comfort and last rights if you will, to pray,” he said. “It's another insult to this injustice."

Davis turned down the opportunity to choose a special last meal. He was therefore presented with the prison’s standard-issue dinner: grilled cheeseburgers, oven-browned potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw, cookies and a grape drink.

The execution came 20 years after Davis was convicted of the murder of Mark Macphail, a 27-year-old police officer who was shot and wounded after intervening in a fight outside the store. The case has been in and out of court ever since, as increasing doubts were cast on his conviction.

There was no physical evidence, blood samples, or DNA linking Davis to the crime. The murder weapon was never found. His conviction instead relied on witness statements from nine people, seven of whom have since recanted their evidence, saying they were coerced into delivering it by police officers.

Several members of the jury have since come forward to say that they reached the wrong verdict. Meanwhile, a further witness has claimed that another man, Sylvester Coles, privately confessed to the murder.

Coles is known to have owned a gun similar to the one used to shoot MacPhail, but claims to have lost it shortly after the killing. He was at the scene, and is one of the two remaining prosecution witnesses who is yet to recant his evidence.

Despite the apparent flaws in the conviction, lawyers for Davis failed to overturn it because they were unable to conclusively prove that he was innocent. The mere appearance of doubt regarding evidence presented to a jury at an original trial is not sufficient to have a death sentence commuted.

The case is seen by supporters of Davis to be a textbook example the flaws of the US capital punishment system. And it carries particular political heat because of the fact that he is a black man from the Deep South, where a disproportionate number of executed criminals hail from ethnic minorities.

Supporters say Davis was all-too-hastily arrested and charged, by white police officers who suspected him of killing one of their own and leapt to conclusions regarding his guilt. Despite the apparent flimsiness of the evidence used to convict him, the court swiftly decided he should receive the ultimate penalty.

Last night, lawyers for Davis described his killing as a “legal lynching” described the execution as "racially bigoted". They told reporters: "In the state of Georgia 48.4% of people on death row this morning were black males, and in Georgia they make up no more than 15% of the population."

With this in mind thousands of demonstrators, many of them from the race relations lobby spent the day in Atlanta, in a mood which onlookers said grew increasingly angry as the execution time approached. At one point, riot police were deployed to the streets, and helicopters took to the air. But no violence was reported.

Polls show that 57 percent of Americans believe Davis is innocent, and there is a school of thought that his execution could herald a tipping point in public attitudes to the death penalty.

The US currently executes more people than any country in the World except China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen. And although just over 60 percent of the public still support capital punishment, that number appears to have been slowly falling since the 1990s

The emergence of DNA technology has allowed several death row inmates to be exonerated in recent years, and revelations that recently-executed men such as Cameron Todd Willingham may very well have been innocent have further dented public faith in the system.

A final message to supporters of Davis came from Edward Dubose, a member of the Georgia NAACP who spoke to the condemned man during the afternoon. "Troy wanted me to let you know – keep the faith. The fight is bigger than him... The death penalty in this country needs to end. They call it execution; we call it murder."

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