ATLANTA - Supporters of Troy Davis planned to make 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 high-profile death-row inmate now that his legal appeals are exhausted.
The five-member Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles were to meet at 9 a.m. Monday to consider arguments surrounding Davis, who claims he is innocent of the killing of 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 the 42-year-old man.
The pardons board, which has the power to commute death sentences but rarely does so, decided in 2007 to delay his execution for 90 days to grant the courts more time to review the case. A year later, it denied Davis 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. "The very reputation and faith that this public has in its justice system is on the line."
Among those who support Davis' clemency request are former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI.
The board, which meets in a closed-door session, will first hear hours of testimony from Davis' legal team and its witnesses, although Davis himself is not scheduled to appear. The panel will then hear from prosecutors, MacPhail's family and their witnesses.
Davis has captured worldwide attention because of the doubt his supporters have raised over whether he killed MacPhail, who was shot to death while rushing to help a homeless man who had been attacked. 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, but he couldn't convince a judge to grant him a new trial.
At that June 2010 hearing, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. heard from two witnesses who said they falsely incriminated Davis and from two others who said another man had confessed to being MacPhail's killer in the years since Davis' trial.
Moore said the evidence cast some additional doubt on Davis' conviction, but that it was "largely smoke and mirrors" and not enough to vindicate Davis or grant him a new trial. When the appeals courts refused to review the judge's decision, Davis' attorneys set their hopes on persuading the pardons board to grant clemency.
In a 60-page petition to the board, Davis' legal team contends that several witnesses who testified at his 1991 trial have disputed all or parts of their testimony, and that several others who did not testify say another man was to blame for the shooting. They say the evidence creates too much doubt to allow the execution to go forward. And they argue that a string of court rulings that upheld his conviction largely failed to address his innocence claims.
"The courts have determined that Mr. Davis's conviction was constitutional," the petition said. "That does not mean it was correct."
Prosecutors have stood by their case through the years. They say ballistics evidence links Davis to the shooting and that many of the concerns about witness testimony were raised during the trial. The allegations that someone else later confessed to the shooting, they say, are inconsistent and inadmissible in court.
And MacPhail's relatives say there's no question that prosecutors charged the right person with the officer's killing.
"There's no doubt," said Anneliese MacPhail, the slain officer's mother. "Not after I went through that trial and saw what I saw."