By Bill Rankin and Rhonda Cook
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The mother of a murdered police officer reacted with caution when she got the news Tuesday morning that the state Board of Pardons and Paroles had declined to commute the death sentence of Troy Anthony Davis, the man condemned for killing her son.
“We’ve been here three times before,” said Anneliese MacPhail, mother of Mark Allen MacPhail, who was shot to death while working a second job in 1989. “This is our fourth time [to face an execution date] so you get kind of weary of it and [I] don’t know if I can believe this. We are ready to close this book and start our lives. This has been a long haul.”
The board released its decision just after 8 a.m., after spending an entire day hearing from Davis’ supporters and then prosecutors and MacPhail’s relatives. The five-member board did not disclose the breakdown of its vote to deny clemency.
The Davis family said through a spokeswoman they were not ready to comment on the decision Tuesday morning but may hold a news conference later in the day. They are still planning to visit Davis at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson, the location of the state’s death row and execution chamber.
“It’s the wrong decision,” said one of Davis’ attorneys, Jason Ewart. “It’s a mistake.”
He said the five-member board ended its presentation after three hours while the other side — prosecutors and the MacPhail family — was given at least four hours.
“It sounds like they [prosecutors and family members] just brow beat them [the board],” Ewart said.
Davis’ lawyers said they are considering launching yet another last-ditch round of appeals.
“I am utterly shocked and disappointed at the failure of our justice system at all levels to correct a miscarriage of justice,” Brian Kammer, one of Davis’ attorneys, said Tuesday after the decision was announced.
Amnesty International and the NAACP, two groups that have rallied support for Davis’ innocence claims, condemned the board’s decision to deny clemency
“In moments of immense sadness, moments that shake the foundation of our faith in the justice system and in mankind, there are often no words that can adequately express one’s grief and outrage,” said NAACP President and CEO Todd Jealous. “Despite overwhelming evidence pointing to his innocence, the execution will proceed and Troy Davis will live his last day on September 21.”
Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International AIUSA (AIUSA), said it was “unconscionable” that the board denied Davis relief. “Allowing a man to be sent to death under an enormous cloud of doubt about his guilt is an outrageous affront to justice,” he said.
Davis’ case has already taken more unexpected turns than just about any death-penalty case in Georgia history and his innocence claims have attracted international attention. Its resolution was postponed once again when the parole board late Monday announced it would not be making an immediate decision as to whether Davis should live or die.
Davis, 42, is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson.
Late Monday, Davis’ sister, Martina Correia, said the family was “just praying for a good outcome.”
They were distraught at the news, a spokeswoman said.
As for her brother’s execution date being set on repeated occasions, “It’s been like reliving a nightmare over and over. … But we believe in our brother’s innocence.”
The surviving relatives of the slain officer presented a decidedly different front. They resolutely told the news media they believe Davis is a killer who deserves to die for what he did.
“He’s guilty,” MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris, said. “We need to go ahead and execute him.”
“What a travesty it would be if they don’t uphold the death sentence, MacPhail-Harris said on Monday after the meeting with the board. “It’s time for justice today. My family needs justice. He was taken from us too soon, too early.”
As for the case presented by Davis’ legal team that Davis was wrongly convicted, she said, “It’s been a lie.”
MacPhail-Harris was flanked by her 23-year-old daughter, Madison MacPhail, and 22-year-old son, Mark MacPhail Jr., who were a toddler and an infant when their father was killed.
“A future was taken from me,” saidMadison MacPhail, unable to hold back tears. “The death penalty is the correct form of justice. … Troy Davis murdered my father, no questions asked.”
Officer MacPhail, a 27-year-old former Army Ranger, was moonlighting on a security detail when he ran to help a homeless man, who had cried out because he was being pistol whipped. MacPhail was shot three times before he could draw his handgun.
While some states give the governor the authority to commute a sentence of someone about to be executed that is not the case in Georgia; that power lies with the parole board. Three years ago, the board declined to commute Davis’ death sentence to life with or without parole, but it has three new members since that decision.
Over the past decade, the board has commuted three death sentences — Alexander Williams in 2002, James Willie Hall in 2004 and Samuel Crowe in 2008.
Among witnesses to testify on Davis’ behalf was Brenda Forrest, a juror who voted to sentence Davis to death at the 1991 trial. She now says she has too much doubt about her verdict and is asking the board to grant clemency. Two other jurors who voted to sentence Davis to death have signed affidavits asking the board to spare Davis from execution.
Also testifying before the board was Quiana Glover, a Savannah woman who says that she heard Sylvester “Redd” Coles, who was with Davis shortly before MacPhail was killed, say he was the actual killer. Coles made the statement during a party in June 2009 when he had been drinking heavily, Glover said in a sworn affidavit.
Coles, the first to implicate Davis to the police, testified at trial that he left the scene before shots were fired.
Calls for Davis to be spared execution have been made by numerous dignitaries, including former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI Director William Sessions, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher and Larry Thompson, the former deputy U.S. attorney general. Davis’ advocates, including Amnesty International and the NAACP, have used social media to rally worldwide support. Last week, Davis’ supporters presented the parole board with the names of more than 663,000 people asking that Davis be granted clemency.
This is the fourth time the state of Georgia has set an execution date for Davis. On three prior occasions, he was granted stays — twice just hours before his execution was to be carried out.
On one occasion, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and ordered an extraordinary hearing, giving Davis the chance to clearly establish he was an innocent man. But a Savannah judge, after hearing two days of testimony, ultimately ruled that while Davis’ new evidence “cast some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.”