Davis appeals fail; executed for ‘89 murder

Troy Anthony Davis, who maintained his innocence until the end, was executed late Wednesday night after the nation’s highest court rejected his final appeal.

Davis, 42, was declared dead at 11:08 p.m., but his execution did not put to rest widespread doubts about whether he committed the crime for which he was punished – the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail, a father of two young children and a former Army Ranger. His death-penalty case was one of the most bitterly contested and controversial in Georgia history.

AJC reporter was among media witnesses to execution

Strapped to the lethal-injection gurney, Davis lifted his head and looked at the MacPhail family, and said, "The incident that night was not my fault, I did not have a gun. ... I did not personally kill your son, father and brother. I am innocent."

He then said for "those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls."

When Davis addressed members of the MacPhail family who witnessed the execution, they said nothing, but did not look away.

MacPhail's family and the prosecutors who put Davis on death row steadfastly stood behind Davis' conviction as his innocence claims attracted worldwide attention and the calls from dignitaries and celebrities for Davis to be spared. But while Davis may have made thousands wonder if he was a true cop killer, he could not convince the justice system to halt his execution.

"I'm not joyous," MacPhail's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said. "I'm feeling a little bit relieved. It has been a long, long battle. I'd like to close the book."

TROY DAVIS: Davis was convicted of the shooting death of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail after Davis struck a homeless man in the head with a pistol at a Burger King restaurant in August 1989. Davis attempted to flee when MacPhail responded to the disturbance and shot MacPhail twice. He later shot MacPhail in the face. Several witnesses who placed Davis at the crime scene, identifying him as the shooter, recanted their accounts years later. Davis was executed September 2011. -- Some information from murderpedia.org

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Brian Kammer, one of Davis' lawyers, said the state may have executed an innocent man. "I think Georgia has shamed itself in a very profound way by failing to err on the side of life when there is meaningful, significant doubt," he said.

This was the fourth time Davis faced execution. On the three prior occasions, he received stays. But a succession of court decisions issued Wednesday denied Davis' final bids.

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously declined to stop the execution about two hours before it was to be carried out. Davis' scheduled 7 p.m. execution was put on hold for more than three hours as the U.S. Supreme Court considered his final bid.

The scene outside the state prison in Jackson was unlike any other in past executions. Television satellite trucks and media cars parked bumper to bumper. A crowd of death-penalty opponents swelling into the hundreds --  but dwindled at the evening wore on -- rallied outside and held vigils in an area set aside for them. A news conference organized by Amnesty International and the NAACP at a nearby church resembled a tent-revival meeting.

As the high court deliberated past the scheduled execution time, a dozen Georgia state troopers in riot gear raised tensions when they marched in military formation between protesters and other officers in paramilitary gear stationed just outside the prison. The troopers were met by choruses of “Shame on you” from the protesters.

Benjamin Jealous, head of the NAACP, predicted Davis’ case would be a “game-changer for the death-penalty debate” and make jurors more reluctant to send killers to death row for fear they might be making a mistake.

As the day wore on and Davis’ execution neared, he met with family members and friends. He declined the opportunity offered all condemned inmates to give a final, recorded statement. He was given a tray with a cheeseburger, potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw and cookies but did not eat a last meal, a prison spokeswoman said.

VICTIM: Savannah Police officer MARK MacPHAIL: MacPhail was a former Army Ranger, married with two small children, when he was killed. "We’ve been here before. We’re just hoping it will go all the way through this time,” Mark MacPhail Jr., who was an infant in 1989 when his father and namesake was shot to death in a Savannah Burger King parking lot, told the AJC's Rhonda Cook in a September 2011 article. -- Some information from murderpedia.org

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This week, Davis’ legal team mounted an aggressive effort to try and stop the execution. It first asked the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant Davis clemency, a request that was denied Tuesday.

The lawyers, joined by U.S. congressmen, former Department of Corrections officials and the Innocence Project, asked the parole board to reconsider. The board denied that as well.

Davis’ lawyers next asked the Department of Corrections to let Davis take a polygraph test, but they were rebuffed at the prison gate on Wednesday morning.

“We came here to try and prove Mr. Davis is innocent and unfortunately we were denied that opportunity by the Department of Corrections,” said Stephen Marsh, one of Davis’ lawyers, after he was turned away from the prison in Jackson, about 50 miles south of Atlanta.

Davis’ supporters even called for President Barack Obama to stop the execution, though only the state parole board or a court could do so. At a Monday news conference, White House spokesman Jay Carney, when asked about Davis’ case, declined to weigh in.

Bliss Piaro, 49, from Byron, Ga., joins protesters he says, "for justice" at the Georgia State Capitol in a rally against the planned execution of Troy Davis.

Credit: Elissa Eubanks / eeubanks@ajc.com

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Credit: Elissa Eubanks / eeubanks@ajc.com

“Well, as you know, the president has written that he believes the death penalty does little to deter crime but that some crimes merit the ultimate punishment,” Carney said. He referred questions about the pending Davis execution to the U.S. Justice Department.

The case was one of the most popular topics throughout Wednesday on the social media Twitter site.

MacPhail, 27, was moonlighting on a security detail shortly after midnight on Aug. 19, 1989, when he rushed to help a homeless man who had cried out while he was pistol-whipped in a Burger King parking lot.

MacPhail was shot three times before he could draw his gun. One witness said the killer wore a “smirky-like smile” and stood over the fallen officer, firing again and again, including once in MacPhail’s face.

Sylvester “Redd” Coles, who accompanied Davis to the scene, was the first to implicate Davis to police. Other witnesses said they either saw Davis fire the fatal shots or identified Davis as the killer by the clothes he wore.

Davis was tried, convicted and sentenced to death during a 1991 trial.

In ensuing years, however, several key prosecution witnesses renounced or backed off their trial testimony, while others issued sworn statements that said Coles had told them he was the actual trigger man. Coles, once asked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the accusations, declined to comment. At trial, he testified that he left the immediate crime scene before he heard shots fired.

The new testimony and evidence gained notoriety because the murder weapon was never found, and no DNA, fingerprint or blood evidence tied Davis to the killing. At least three jurors who sentenced Davis to death recently signed sworn statements that said they now had doubts about their verdicts and asked that Davis be spared execution.

People arrived outside the prison in buses, including some who accompanied Al Sharpton and his National Action Network from Atlanta.

A.C. Dumas traveled to Jackson from Flint, Mich., to rally support for Davis. “I think you have to correct the mistake — that is why you have erasures,” Dumas said. “This is a threat of injustice and needs to be corrected.”

Organized by Amnesty International and the NAACP, a news conference held at Towaligia County Line Baptist Church near the jail better resembled a tent revival meeting. Among the speakers were Big Boi of the musical group Outkast and Martina Correia, Davis’ eldest sibling, who has been the most outspoken champion of his cause.

The wheelchair-bound Correia, who is battling breast cancer, said she deeply believed in her brother’s innocence and contended his case should be reason for abolishing the death penalty. “Troy said this movement did not begin with him and will not end with him,” she said.

“I’m not here to say who is innocent or who is guilty, but, if you’re going to execute a man, you need to make sure he is 100-percent guilty,” said Big Boi, whose legal name is Antwan Patton and who was raised in Savannah. “There is too much doubt.”

About 400 Troy Davis supporters gathered in front of the state Capitol Wednesday night in a vigil calling for a stay of execution. Some carried “I Am Troy Davis” banners, held candles, sang and prayed.

Staff writers Steve Visser, Craig Schneider, Jeffry Scott and Katie Leslie contributed to this article.