By Katie Leslie and Craig Schneider
ABOVE PHOTO: About 500 marchers walk from downtown Atlanta’s Woodruff Park to Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in support of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.
(AP Photo/David Tulis)
With only days before his scheduled execution, an effort to spare convicted killer Troy Davis is gathering thousands in rallies, vigils and other last-minute events from Atlanta to Peru to Berlin.
Citing doubts about his guilt, national leaders of the NAACP and Amnesty International led hundreds in a protest Friday against executing the man a Georgia jury said killed a Savannah police officer in 1989. Amnesty International declared a Global Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis, with 300 events across the United States and the globe, including in New York, Washington D.C., San Diego, Paris and Oslo.
Former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu are among those calling for his execution to be halted. And this week, Davis supporters presented 663,000 petitions to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles asking for his life to be spared.
But some believe that lost in the fracas is the most important human face, that of victim Mark Allen MacPhail.
His mother, Anneliese MacPhail, called the widespread rallies “a circus,” saying, “It makes me angry. They better learn that he is guilty.”
She believes the case is being used by death penalty opponents to futher their cause regardless of the facts.
“It’s not being told in an honest way,” said MacPhail, 77, of Columbus.
The murder case that has played out for two decade in the courts, and included three stays of execution and a review by the U.S. Supreme Court, has generated greater attention than any other death penalty case in Georgia. By far, it is among the most famous of death penalty cases in years, experts said Friday, partly fueled by the speed and ease of social media.
“It is getting unusually high attention; this only happens every decade or so,” said Richard Dieter, head of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. “It’s about larger debates in society and this is the case that puts a human face on it.”
The case is fraught with drama: The murder of an off-duty police officer. Witnesses who recanted testimony against Davis. Last-minute court decisions sparing a condemned man’s life and death penalty opponents who say they fear an innocent man could die.
The most compelling aspect of the case is simple, said Michael Radelet, who lectures about the death penalty at the University of Colorado: doubt.
“The big thing driving [the attention] is doubts about his guilt, the possibility of executing an innocent guy,” Radelet said. “I think in general people support the death penalty. But you need people convicted beyond a reasonable doubt. … You don’t want any doubt.”
Indeed, some of Davis’ supporters, including his family members, maintain his innocence. Others believe there are too many doubts to justify execution, and instead want his death sentence commuted to life without parole. The campaign to spare him has received coverage from several national media outlets.
At the rally Friday in Atlanta, supporters carried signs that said “stop the execution” and wore T-shirts that read “I am Troy Davis.”
Troy Davis himself has been elated with the widespread effort on his behalf, said his sister, Kimberly Davis, who spoke with him Thursday.
“Wow,” was his reaction, said Davis, of Savannah. “He didn’t know he had that many supporters. He feels his voice is finally being heard.”
The courts have been hearing Davis’ side for two decades, said Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, and the facts have not changed.
“His case has been reviewed by every level of the justice system, and frankly none has determined anything but that he is guilty of murdering a police officer,” Canterbury said. “He’s had his day in court.”
But Davis will get one more chance to ask for leniency. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles, which has the sole authority in Georgia to commute death sentences, will meet Monday to consider Davis’ latest plea for mercy. Davis’ appeals appear to be exhausted, so his lawyers plan to mount a last-ditch effort, bringing new witnesses to testify before the board.
In a petition filed this week before the parole board, Davis’ lawyers submitted sworn statements from three jurors who agreed at the 1991 trial that Davis should be sentenced to death. They now say they have doubts about his verdict and ask that Davis be spared from execution.
Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, said racial concerns have fueled the effort to stop the execution. Davis, an African-American, was convicted in the murder of a white police officer.
“Here’s this African-American man whose had three stays of execution, and they are still pushing him toward the death chamber,” DuBose said. “This is a dark day for Georgia.”
MacPhail supporters say there is no darker day than in 1989 when MacPhail, 27, was shot multiple times after he responded to the wails of a homeless man being pistol-whipped in a Burger King parking lot.
“At the end of the day we have a murdered police officer,” said Will Marling, executive director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. “And that is not in question.”