The New York Times
September 20, 2011
Georgia Pardons Board Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate
By KIM SEVERSON
ATLANTA — Barring an unimaginable legal reversal, Troy Davis will be executed by lethal injection at a Georgia prison on Wednesday.
In the days that follow, Amnesty International and other groups that fight the death penalty will move on to other cases.
The family of Mark MacPhail, the Savannah police officer who was trying to break up a fight in a fast-food parking lot when Mr. Davis shot him in the face and the heart, will look for closure after 22 years of courtrooms, news coverage and three heart-ripping stays of execution.
Legal experts will debate whether a case built on a tiny amount of physical evidence and shifting witness testimony was enough to warrant execution, and whether death penalty politics in the United States have reached a tipping point.
But here, in this capital city of the Deep South, the case will continue to resonate as a barometer of racism in this country, many said.
Throughout Tuesday and into the evening, when a few hundred people gathered at the Capitol downtown, people spoke again and again of how Mr. Davis was wrongly accused, wrongly convicted and now, in their minds, about to be wrongly executed by a legal system stacked against minorities.
“What am I supposed to tell my son? That we still live in a Jim Crow society?” said Mary Ross, 37, who attended a somber news conference inside Ebenezer Baptist Church in the neighborhood where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.
There, members of the N.A.A.C.P. and Amnesty International and the church pastor outlined what are clearly Hail Mary efforts to stop the execution.
They pleaded publicly to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole, which earlier in the day denied Mr. Davis’s clemency after a daylong hearing Monday.
In a brief statement, the five-member board, which is appointed by the governor, said that its members “have not taken their responsibility lightly and certainly understand the emotions attached to a death penalty case.”
Mr. Davis’s supporters were reaching out to the prosecutor in the original case, asking that he persuade the original judge to rescind the death order. Benjamin Jealous, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who planned to visit Mr. Davis on Wednesday, was trying to ask President Obama for a reprieve.
The Innocence Project, which has had a hand in the exoneration of 17 death-row inmates through the use of DNA testing, sent a letter to the Chatham County district attorney, Larry Chisolm, urging him to withdraw the execution warrant against Mr. Davis, although there is no DNA evidence at issue in the case.
Regardless of whether those hope-against-hope efforts work, the N.A.A.C.P. and others said they would call for the Department of Justice to investigate the case as a civil rights violation, asking that the original police investigation and the legal process that led to Mr. Davis’s conviction be examined.
“It harkens back to some ugly days in the history of this state,” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, who visited Mr. Davis on Monday.
But for the family of the slain officer, and countless others who believe that two decades worth of legal appeals and Supreme Court intervention is more than enough to ensure justice, it is not an issue of race but of law.
Calling Mr. Davis a victim is ludicrous, said Mr. MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris.
“We have lived this for 22 years,” she said Monday. “We are victims."
She added, “We have laws in this land so that there is not chaos. We are not killing Troy because we want to.”
Her daughter, Madison, 24, along with her brother, Mark, 22, will be at the execution Wednesday. The officer’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, will not. But she welcomes it, saying: “I’m not for blood — I’m for justice. We have been through hell, my family.”
Mr. Davis’s family, who had gathered in an Atlanta hotel to await the decision, learned that he would be put to death from members of his legal team and Amnesty International. They immediately went to the state prison in Jackson, about an hour’s drive south of Atlanta, to be with him.
Mr. Davis, who has refused a last meal, was in good spirits and prayerful, said Wende Gozan Brown, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, who visited Mr. Davis on Tuesday.
He told her that his death was for all the Troy Davises who came before and after him.
“I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath,” he said in a conversation relayed by Ms. Brown. “Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.”
The case has been a slow and convoluted exercise in legal maneuvering and death penalty politics.
This is the fourth time Mr. Davis has faced the death penalty. The state parole board granted him a stay in 2007 as he was preparing for his final hours, saying the execution should not proceed unless its members “are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.” The board has since added three new members.
In 2008, his execution was about 90 minutes away when the Supreme Court stepped in. Although the court kept Mr. Davis from execution, it later declined to hear the case.
In the week before his third execution date, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued a stay to consider his lawyer’s arguments that new testimony that could prove his innocence had not been considered.
The appeals court denied the claim but allowed time for Mr. Davis to take his argument directly to the Supreme Court, which ordered a federal court to once again examine new testimony.
But in June, a federal district judge in Savannah said Mr. Davis’s legal team had failed to demonstrate his innocence, setting the stage for the new date.
This time around, the case catapulted into the national consciousness with record numbers of petitions — more than 630,000 — delivered to the board to stay the execution, and a list of people asking for clemency included former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 51 members of Congress, entertainment figures like Cee Lo Green and even some death penalty supporters, including William S. Sessions, a former F.B.I. director.
Robbie Brown contributed reporting.