Huffpost Crime
John Rudolf Headshot

Troy Davis Executed: Controversially Convicted Inmate Maintains Innocence Until The End

Posted: Updated:

JACKSON, Ga. -- Troy Davis, convicted of murdering an off-duty Savannah police officer more than 20 years ago, held fast to his claims of innocence even as he was finally executed by lethal injection on Wednesday night.

Strapped to a gurney and minutes from death, Davis stated that he had not carried a gun the night of the murder and did not shoot the officer, Mark MacPhail, in a fast food restaurant parking lot on an August night in 1989.

Speaking directly to MacPhail's brother and son, who witnessed the execution, Davis beseeched them to continue to examine the events that night. "All I can ask is that you look deep into this case so you can really find the truth," he said.

Davis then addressed prison officials preparing to inject him with a lethal mix of chemicals. "May God have mercy on your souls," he said.


The first injection began at 10:54 p.m. and Davis was declared dead at 11:08 p.m. Afterward, Davis' attorneys and legal advocates quickly decried the execution as a terrible miscarriage of justice.

"I had the unfortunate opportunity tonight to witness a tragedy, to witness Georgia execute an innocent man," Jason Ewart, one of Davis' attorneys, said outside the prison. "The innocent have no enemy but time, and Troy's time slipped away tonight."

Meanwhile, family members of the murdered officer expressed relief that the execution was over, according to the Associated Press.

News of the execution quieted hundreds of protesters who had lined the highway across from the entrance to the prison for hours, chanting and singing as they faced a small army of baton-wielding prison guards in full riot gear, sheriff's deputies and state police. The crowd of protesters was quickly dispersed by police after Davis' death was announced.

Local observers called the protests the largest at the state's death row in many years. "I've never seen anything like this," said Don Earnhart, manager of a Jackson, Ga., radio station, who said he has covered executions for several decades. Protests were also seen at the state capital, Atlanta, in Washington, D.C. and at the U.S. embassy in London.

The execution was delayed for more than four hours by a last-minute petition to the U.S. Supreme Court by Davis' legal team. The justices denied the petition without comment or dissent.

Davis' death ends an extraordinary legal saga that included three last-minute stays of execution and dozens of hearings before state and federal appellate courts. Over two decades, his legal team argued that a lack of physical evidence linking Davis to the crime and recantations by a number of critical eyewitnesses who originally implicated him in the shooting were reason enough for the Georgia courts to grant him a new trial.

But state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, repeatedly ruled against his appeals for a new trial and he was ultimately executed on the basis of the original jury verdict.

On Tuesday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which has sole authority to commute a death sentence in the state, rejected Davis' plea for clemency, essentially sealing his fate. MacPhail's family members had repeatedly stated their certainty that Davis was guilty of the crime and consistently fought his efforts to obtain clemency.

Earlier this week, the state's pardons board was bombarded by hundreds of thousands of petitions to spare Davis' life, including ones from William S. Sessions, a former FBI director, and Bob Barr, a four-term Republican congressman from Georgia and death penalty supporter. Many of those opposed to the execution noted the lack of physical evidence tying Davis to the crime and the recantation of eyewitness, many of whom told attorneys for Davis that they had been pressured by police to testify that Davis was the shooter.

"Imposing an irreversible sentence of death on the skimpiest of evidence will not serve the interest of justice," Barr wrote in an editorial on the case last Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Davis offered to submit to a lie detector test, but the request was denied by prison officials.

As the hours until the execution dwindled, calls for clemency continued from around the nation and the world, including from a group of former death row wardens, who wrote to Georgia authorities calling on them to halt the death sentence due to doubts about Davis' guilt. Among the group was the former warden in charge of the Georgia death chamber.

"While most of the prisoners whose executions we participated in accepted responsibility for the crimes for which they were punished, some of us have also executed prisoners who maintained their innocence until the end," the wardens wrote. "It is those cases that are most haunting to an executioner."

Meanwhile, the family of the murdered policeman, Mark MacPhail, and the case's original prosecutor have argued strenuously for Davis' execution, and have asserted that there is no doubt that he is guilty of the murder.

Joan MacPhail-Harris, the officer's widow, said this week that Davis "has had ample time to prove his innocence" and failed to do so, according to the Associated Press. She, along with MacPhail's children, urged the pardon's board to deny Davis' petition for clemency this week.

An extraordinary hearing last year ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court gave Davis the rare opportunity to present evidence of his innocence as part of a petition for a new trial. The judge overseeing the hearing ruled that the state's case against Davis "may not be ironclad" and agreed that Davis had raised some doubts about his conviction. However, the judge concluded that Davis had not provided the court with compelling evidence of his innocence and denied his request for a retrial.

Supporters of Davis said the unwillingness of the U.S. justice system to reconsider his death sentence in light of the witness recantations and other new evidence exposed fundamental problems in the justice system.

"Troy Davis has become an incredible symbol of everything that is broken, everything that is wrong" with the capital punishment in the U.S., said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International's U.S. branch, in an interview on the prison grounds.

Jason Ewart, Davis attorney, said he hoped Davis death would lead to systematic reform.

"This case struck a chord in the world, and as a result the legacy of Troy Davis doesn't die tonight," Ewart said, standing beside Davis' family members outside Georgia's death row.

"Our sadness, the sadness of his friends and his family, is tempered by the hope that Troy's death will lead to fundamental legal reforms," he said, "so we will never again witness, with inevitable regret, the execution of an innocent man as we did here tonight."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the capital of Georgia. It is Atlanta, not Athens.


live blog

Oldest Newest

HuffPost's Ryan Grim reports:

Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, conspicuously refused to use the term execution in a statement responding to the death of Troy Davis. “I offer my thoughts, prayers and condolences to the family of Troy Anthony Davis, a man killed by the citizens of Georgia despite a lack of moral certainty as to his guilt," said Johnson.

Share this:

Asked by MSNBC's Ed Schultz if he "unequivocally" believed that Georgia had just executed an innocent man, NAACP head Ben Jealous, who has followed the case for 15 years, said simply: "Absolutely."

Share this:
@ thinkprogress : "May God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls." -- Troy Davis' last words to his executioners

Share this:

CNN reports:

Georgia inmate Troy Davis was executed Wednesday night for the 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah police officer.

Davis died at 11:08 p.m. ET, according to a prison official. The execution was about four hours later than initially scheduled, because prison officials waited for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Davis' request for a stay.

Full story here.

Share this:
@ thinkprogress : Time of death for Troy Davis: 11:08PM #toomuchdoubt

Share this:
@ cnnbrk : Convicted cop killer Troy Davis was executed by injection in Georgia at 11:08 ET after Supreme Court denies stay

Share this:
@ mpoppel : Both CNN and NYT are reporting that Davis is being executed at this moment. Should be over in a few minutes.

Share this:
@ RepJohnLewis : Today, we are all Troy Anthony Davis. Tonight, a little piece of all of us will die.

Share this:
@ AntDeRosa : MSNBC is reporting that the execution is mid-way through.

Share this:

HuffPost's Jason Cherkis reports:

Laura Moye, the organizer with Amnesty International, is still on the prison grounds. "We are just profoundly saddened and upset," she said.

A prayer circle had formed around the Davis family earlier in the evening. It continues.

"We knew that it was a long shot," Moye said. "Troy Davis has always had difficult odds. He's faced executions three times...We always held on to our hope. We got this far by believing in the power of human rights. Now it seems there's nothing that can intervene to stop this execution."

There's still a couple hundred protesters and Davis supporters in attendance. The chanting has died down. "People are trying to rally around this family. Everybody wants to be there standing in support of the Davis family," Moye explained. "A lot of people standing in disbelief."

Next steps are vague. A boycott of Georgia? A protest in the coming weeks. Who knows.

Moye said: "What is a miracle in this case is so many people have raised their voices."

Share this:
@ mpoppel : CNN reporting, citing prison officials, that execution of Davis will begin just after 11 pm ET

Share this:
@ thinkprogress : Rep Hank Johnson D-GA on Troy Davis: "There are no words. It's a sad day for my state of Georgia, for America" (via @jamiedupree )

Share this:
@ thinkprogress : VIDEO: Protesters react to SCOTUS decision: "We are Troy Davis"

Share this:
@ thinkprogress : RT @TPJustice: The fact that there were no published dissents does not mean that all nine justices opposed the stay.

Share this:
@ thinkprogress : MSNBC reports that Troy Davis execution is expected in the next 20 to 30 minutes #toomuchdoubt

Share this:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision to deny the stay of execution can be viewed here.

Share this:
@ GregMitch : CBS News: no dissents at all from any of SCOTUS justices.

Share this:

Share this:
@ BreakingNews : US Supreme Court denies request for stay of execution for Georgia inmate Troy Davis - wire services

Share this:

From Athens, GA Patch:

The Arch is the usual place of protest in Athens.

On Wednesday night, about 50 people gathered there with signs to protest the impending execution of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, convicted 22 years ago of murdering a Savannah policeman.

Full story here.

Share this:
@ Edpilkington : Candlelit vigil now being held opposite #TroyDavis prison. One side of road - candals, other side Swat teams with tear gas rifles

Share this:
@ NickKristof : When smart people debate whether or not a man should be executed, that's a good reason not to execute him. #TroyDavis.

Share this:
@ MikeSacksHP : Protesters calling it a night, regrouping at All Soul's Church here in DC at 7pm tomorrow. Don't expect the ruling to wait until then.

Share this:
@ MikeSacksHP : #SCOTUS press office says still no developments. Protesters latest chant: "Supreme Court let's face it: death penalty is racist!"

Share this:
@ codepinkalert : PIC: Rally at Supreme Court to free #TroyDavis #toomuchdoubt

Share this:
@ rolandsmartin : CNN's Jeffrey Toobin says this is an "unusually" long deliberation by the U.S. Supreme Court #troydavis

Share this:
@ CBSAndrew : If Scotus stays #TroyDavis execution tonight, it would be third in less than one week, virtually unparalleled in history of death penalty.

Share this:
@ kimseverson : Family is being prepared for news, said Larry Cox of Amnesty International. #TroyDavis. No word on what that news will be.

Share this:
@ MikeSacksHP : Protesters chanting "we are Troy Davis, I am Troy Davis" loudly in the rain in front of the Court.

Share this:

ABC reports on the temporary euphoria of the crowd outside the prison where Troy Davis is being held:

At 7:05 p.m., five minutes after his scheduled death, Davis' supporters erupted in cheers, hugs and tears outside the jail in Jackson, Ga., as supporters believed Davis had been saved from the death penalty. But Davis was granted only a temporary reprieve as the Supreme Court considers the decision.

The warrant for Davis' execution is valid until Sept. 28. The Georgia Resource Center, part of Davis' legal defense team, said it was unsure how long the delay would last.

Share this:

Around the Web

Troy Davis to be executed after parole board denies clemency | The ...

Troy Davis execution delayed while US supreme court considers ...

High court refuses to block Troy Davis execution

Troy Davis execution imminent after supreme court refuses stay

Troy Davis asks Supreme Court to stop execution

US Supreme Court refuses to block execution of Troy Davis