Monday, 16 July 2007

Parole Board hears Davis plea for clemency

Parole Board hears Davis plea for clemency

Published on: 07/16/07

After listening to more than five hours of pleas to spare the life of convicted cop killer Troy Anthony Davis, the state parole board is now hearing from those who want the condemned inmate's scheduled execution tomorrow to proceed.

Supporters of slain officer Mark Allen MacPhail, including his mother, siblings, widow and daughter — along with Chatham County District Attorney Spencer Lawton and the police chief in Savannah — were among those who appeared at the clemency hearing.

(Originally published Sept. 21, 2003)
Witnesses recant; law stymies death row appeal

Also Monday, Davis's lawyers filed an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, asking the court to indefinitely postpone Davis's scheduled execution. The lawyers are appealing a ruling issued Friday by a judge in Savannah, who denied Davis's extraordinary motion for a new trial. The motion, filed last week in Chatham County Superior Court, asked for a new trial based on the recanted testimony and newly obtained evidence.

Questions about Davis' possible innocence surfaced after his 1991 death sentence for MacPhail's murder. Seven of nine witnesses who helped implicate Davis have since recanted much of the testimony used to convict him. Other witnesses have come forward to blame another man for the murder.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles began the clemency hearing this morning to determine whether to commute Davis' sentence to life in prison (with or without the possibility of parole) or allow the execution to move forward.

Davis' lawyers and sisters arrived shortly before the 9 a.m. hearing. U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) sat on the front pew in the clemency hearing room, ready to support Davis' clemency request. Lewis left before the hearing was over, and did not comment to reporters. Davis' lawyers, Jason Ewart and Danielle Garten, declined comment after the hearing.

Lewis' office later released a statement of his testimony that read, in part: "I do not know Troy Anthony Davis. I do not know if he is guilty of the charges of which he has been convicted. But I do know that nobody should be put to death based on the evidence we now have in this case." Lewis went on to call the situation "frustrating ... tragic ... unjust." He also spoke of the pain of MacPhail family's quest for justice.

The congressman closed by saying "As a man of faith, I am sure I know what God wants you to do. Do justice. Commute the sentence of Troy Anthony Davis."

One of the witnesses, Tonya Johnson, arrived with Davis' lawyers. Johnson has said that she saw the real killer run from the crime scene and stash two guns in an abandoned house — information she says she initially withheld from authorities.

Johnson told the AJC during a break in the hearing that the parole board asked her about the events of the shooting, and why she took so long to come forward with her story.

"I told them I was scared (about coming forward earlier)," Johnson said.

Johnson said a change of heart caused her to come forward and address the parole board today.

"It felt like a relief," Johnson said of her testimony before the board. "I hope there's a good turnout."

Four other witnesses testified before the parole board, according to parole board documents.

Others in the hearing in support of Davis included Davis' mother and representatives of Amnesty International USA — a human rights group opposed to the death penalty that has taken up Davis' cause.

A jury sentenced Davis to death shooting MacPhail to death. MacPhail, working an off-duty job, responded to a report of a fight in a Burger King parking lot next to the Greyhound bus station in Savannah.

Courts have declined to hear Davis new evidence, in part because of a federal law aimed at expediting seemingly endless death penalty appeals.

Davis, 38, is scheduled to be executed tomorrow at the state prison in Jackson at 7 p.m.

If the parole board commutes Davis' sentence, he would be only the 9th man in Georgia to receive clemency since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976.

Davis, meanwhile, met with friends, relatives and clergy while the parole board debated whether he should live or die, prison officials said. Davis' personal property has already been inventoried and stored by prison officials.

He is scheduled to be placed on "death watch" after his visitation ends at 4 p.m., according to prison system officials. Death watch is a formal protocol entered by condemned inmates in which they are constantly monitored by corrections officers. Eventually — the day of the execution — the inmate will make funeral arrangements, be checked by a physician, eat a last meal and record a final statement before being escorted to the lethal injection gurney.

Staff writer Moni Basu contributed to this report.

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