ATLANTA (AP) — His legal appeals exhausted, supporters of Troy Davis made a last-ditch effort Monday to stop his execution for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer, asking the Georgia pardons board to grant clemency to the 42-year-old who insists that he is innocent.
The five-member Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles has the power to change death sentences, though it rarely does. It was considering arguments surrounding Davis, who claims he is innocent of killing Officer Mark MacPhail. He's set to be put to death by injection Wednesday, the fourth time in four years the state has tried to execute him.
Dozens of Davis' supporters rallied outside the government building where the parole board met. They 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.
Inside the closed-door meeting, a parade of attorneys and supporters asked the five-member board to spare Davis' life. Defense attorney Stephen Marsh said the legal team told the board that there was too much substantial doubt about his guilt to allow the execution to go forward.
Davis has captured worldwide attention because of the doubt his supporters have raised about whether he killed MacPhail, who was fatally shot 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 U.S. 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 convince 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' 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 to the panel.
"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.
Among those who support Davis' clemency request are former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. A host of conservative figures also have advocated on his behalf, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, former Justice Department official Larry Thompson and one-time FBI Director William Sessions.
The board, which meets in a closed-door session, first heard hours of testimony from Davis' legal team and its witnesses, although Davis himself was not scheduled to appear. The panel will then hear from prosecutors, MacPhail's family and their witnesses.
Davis' attorneys and supporters packed the pardons board for their session. Among the people who spoke were Quiana Glover, who said she was at a friend's house in June 2009 when another man told her he killed MacPhail, and Brenda Forrest, a juror who helped convict him in 1991 but is now having second thoughts.
"I feel, emphatically, that Mr. Davis cannot be executed under these circumstances," Miss Forrest said in an affidavit presented to the board by Davis' attorneys.