Execution nears for Ga. inmate Troy Davis; protests worldwide

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JACKSON, Ga. — Troy Davis supporters in the U.S. and Europe were trying just about anything to spare him from lethal injection that was just hours away Wednesday for killing an off-duty Georgia policeman, a crime he and others have insisted for years that he did not commit.

Supporters planned vigils around the world. They’ll be outside Georgia’s death row prison in Jackson and at U.S. embassies in Europe.

Turned down this week by Georgia’s parole board, the 42-year-old’s last, slim chance for reprieve is through the courts, and his lawyers are trying. His backers have tried increasingly frenzied measures: offering for Davis to take a polygraph test, urging prison workers to strike or call in sick, posting a judge’s phone number online, urging people to call and ask him to put a stop to the 7 p.m. execution. They’ve even considered a desperate appeal for White House intervention.

“We’re trying everything we can do, everything under the law,” said Chester Dunham, a civil rights activist and talk show host protesting in Savannah, where in 1989, prosecutors say Davis fatally shot 27-year-old Mark MacPhail.

Davis‘ supporters include former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and a former FBI director, the NAACP, as well as conservative figures. The U.S. Supreme Court even gave him an unusual opportunity to prove his innocence last year, but ultimately didn’t hear the merits of the case.

Shelley Serdahely, of Roswell, Ga., joins hundreds of protesters on Sept. 20, 2011, at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta against the execution of Troy Anthony Davis, who was convicted of murdering an off-duty Savannah police officer in 1989. (Associated Press/Atlanta Journal & Constitution)

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Shelley Serdahely, of Roswell, Ga., joins hundreds of protesters on Sept. 20, ... more >

Several witnesses have recanted their accounts that it was Davis who pulled the trigger, and some jurors have said they’ve changed their minds about his guilt. Still, prosecutors and MacPhail’s family have staunchly backed the verdict and state and federal courts have repeatedly upheld his conviction.

MacPhail was working security at a bus station on Aug. 19, 1989, and rushed to the aid of Larry Young, a homeless man who prosecutors say Davis was bashing with a handgun after asking him for a beer. When MacPhail got there, they say Davis had a smirk on his face as he shot the officer to death in a Burger King parking lot. Others have claimed the man with Davis that night has told people he actually shot the officer.

No gun was ever found, but shell casings were linked, prosecutors say, to an earlier shooting for which Davis was convicted. Witnesses placed Davis at the crime scene and identified him as the shooter. However, no other physical evidence was found, including blood or DNA, that tied Davis to the crime.

As time ticked toward the execution, an upbeat and prayerful Davis turned down an offer for a special last meal and planned to spend his final hours meeting with friends, family and supporters. Meanwhile, two attempts to prove his innocence were rejected: a polygraph test and another hearing before the pardons board. The governor does not have the power to stop it.

Davis‘ attorney Stephen Marsh said Davis would only submit to a polygraph test if pardons officials would take it seriously.

“He doesn’t want to spend three hours away from his family on what could be the last day of his life if it won’t make any difference,” Marsh said.

His lawyers, meanwhile, are trying the legal avenues left to them. They filed a motion in a county court challenging the ballistics evidence and eyewitness testimony, which the state attorney general has asked to be rejected. A judge could at least delay the execution, which has happened three times before. Most believe arguments on the merits of the case have been exhausted, however.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which has helped lead the charge to stop the execution, said it was considering asking President Barack Obama to intervene. Obama cannot grant Davis clemency since it was a state conviction, but could potentially halt the execution by asking for an investigation into a federal issue if one exists, though that was unlikely, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

In Savannah, 16 Davis supporters gathered at the Chatham County courthouse to press District Attorney Larry Chisolm to help stop Davis‘ execution. They said 240,000 people had signed petitions urging the state to spare Davis‘ life, and delivered them in three large boxes to Chisolm’s courthouse office where they were received by a member of the prosecutor’s staff. Chisolm has said he’s powerless to intervene, but activists say they believe he has enough influence as district attorney to sway the outcome.

At the prison in Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton was there as he has been through the fight to save Davis.

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