Watching an execution: AJC reporter was inside the death chamber

The Rev.Lynn Hopkins hugs Carolyn Bond at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison moments after it was announced that Troy Anthony Davis had been executed on Wednesday, Sept 21,2011.

Credit: Johnny Crawford

Credit: Johnny Crawford

The Rev.Lynn Hopkins hugs Carolyn Bond at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison moments after it was announced that Troy Anthony Davis had been executed on Wednesday, Sept 21,2011.

Just after 10:30 Wednesday night two words stopped the conversation among reporters instantly.

“Y’all ready?” a correctional officer asked.

We were moments away from witnessing an execution. Media witnesses are as much a part of the execution process as the officers who escort the inmate to the death chamber or the officers who strap the condemned to a gurney.

Wednesday, we were there as unbiased witnesses, sitting on the back row. Our seats were behind those there on behalf of the condemned and those who prosecuted or arrested Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. The dead officer’s son and namesake, Mark MacPhail Jr., and his brother, William MacPhail, were there for the family.

We spoke little from that moment on, the five reporters selected to witness the execution.

As the officer called our names, we lined up and left the room where we had waited for so long, oblivious to the last-ditch effort to spare Davis and the police presence and protests beyond the prison's walls.

In the death chamber, we took our seats on the last of three pews.

Warden Carl  Humphrey began the process by reading the execution order signed by Chatham County Judge Penny Haas Freesmann. "The court having sentenced defendant Troy Anthony Davis on the third day of September, 1991, to be executed….”

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

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Then he asked Davis if he has any final words.

Yes, the condemned man said and he raised his head so he could look at Mark MacPhail Jr., who was an infant when his father was murdered, and William MacPhail, the dead officer’s brother.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Davis said.

Mark MacPhail, who was leaning forward, and his uncle did not move. They stared at the man who killed their loved one.

“I did not personally kill your son, father and brother,” Davis said. “I am innocent. “

He asked his family and friends to continue to search for the truth.

And to the prison officials he said “may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.”

He then lowered his head. He turned down an offer for a prayer.

Within minutes, Troy Anthony Davis slipped out of consciousness and in 14 minutes he was dead.

A three-drug cocktail ended his life. First pentobarbital put Davis in a drug-induced coma. The paralytic pancuronium bromide was second. Potassium chloride stopped Davis’ heart.

“The court ordered execution of Troy Anthony Davis was carried out in accordance with the laws of the state of Georgia,” the warden announced.

Curtains in the death chamber were closed and we were quickly ushered out.

Waiting for us at the media staging area was a line of correctional officers, deputy sheriffs and state troopers blocking protesters from crossing Georgia Highway 36 onto prison property and hoards of local, national and international reporters waiting for the reporters who witnessed the execution to describe what happened.

He went peacefully, one of the reporters said.

Rhonda Cook has been a reporter at the AJC  for 22 years covering crime. This is the 12th execution she has witnessed.