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Ga. panel is urged to stop execution in ’89 killing

Supporters say inmate didn’t shoot officer

By Greg Bluestein
Associated Press / September 20, 2011

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ATLANTA - Supporters of Troy Davis made a last-ditch effort yesterday to stop his execution for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer, asking the Georgia pardons board to grant him clemency.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which has the power to change death sentences but rarely does, did not issue an immediate decision and gave no timetable for when it would decide. Defense attorneys and the victim’s family both said they were cautiously optimistic the five-member panel would side with them.

Davis, 42, has long claimed he did not kill Mark MacPhail, and the questions surrounding his case have attracted a host of high-profile supporters. After decades of legal wrangling, Davis is set to be put to death by lethal injection tomorrow, the fourth time in four years the state has tried to execute him.

Inside the private meeting, a parade of attorneys and supporters asked the board to spare Davis’s life. Defense attorney Stephen Marsh said the legal team told the board there was too much doubt about his guilt to allow the execution to go forward.

Prosecutors and MacPhail’s family presented their case yesterday afternoon.

“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.’’

Outside the hearing, dozens of Davis’s 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.

Davis has captured worldwide attention because of the doubt his supporters have raised over whether he killed MacPhail, who was shot to death while rushing to help a homeless man who had been attacked. 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 US 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 persuade 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’s 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’s clemency request are former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. A host of conservative figures have also advocated on his behalf, including former US Representative Bob Barr, ex-Justice Department official Larry Thompson, and former FBI director William Sessions.

The board heard hours of testimony from Davis’s legal team and witnesses, although Davis himself did not appear.

Quiana Glover spoke in favor of Davis. She said she was at a friend’s house in June 2009 when another man told her he killed MacPhail. Brenda Forrest, a juror who helped convict Davis in 1991, 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.

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-chairman 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.

MacPhail was shot to death Aug. 19, 1989 after rushing to help Larry Young, a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped in a Burger King parking lot.

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