Troy Davis Execution Approaches As Calls For Clemency Continue

09/21/2011 04:38 pm ET | Updated Dec 01, 2011

Jason Cherkis contributed reporting for this article.

JACKSON, Ga. -- Behind razor wire and thick concrete walls, Troy Davis spent what may be his final hours Wednesday with friends and family, awaiting his execution at 7 p.m. for the murder of a police officer over 20 years ago, a crime he maintains was committed by another man.

"Troy is in good spirits," said Amnesty International spokeswoman Wende Gozan Brown, who visited with Davis on Tuesday, after he received news that a final plea for clemency to a state pardons board had been rejected. "He is steadfastly maintaining his innocence, as he always has."

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Davis's pending execution has sparked an extraordinary outcry nationally and internationally that continued Wednesday, with thousands of people expected to participate in evening protests and vigils at Georgia's death row prison and the state capitol. By early afternoon, dozens of protesters were already singing and praying in a small cordoned-off area on the prison grounds.

Earlier this week, the state's pardons board was bombarded by hundreds of thousands of petitions to spare Davis's life, including calls from former FBI director William Sessions 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 critical 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. "I guess Troy Davis felt like he had enough witness testimony in his favor that he felt that the polygraph would not be necessary," said Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International's U.S. death penalty abolition campaign, when asked why Davis had not submitted to a polygraph before.

The Davis defense's last-minute petition to the Superior Court was rejected by a state judge late Wednesday afternoon.

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's 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 in a press release. "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's 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 and MacPhail's children urged the pardons board to deny Davis's petition for clemency this week and plan to attend the execution.

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, but concluded that he had not provided the court with compelling evidence of his innocence and denied the request for a retrial.

Legal experts, however, noted that despite the judge's ruling, lingering doubts over Davis's guilt will likely mean that concerns over whether the state executed the wrong man will never be resolved.

"What worries me now is that we're looking at a martyr," said Anne Emanuel, a death penalty expert and law professor at Georgia State University. "This is the kind of case that troubles people that otherwise support the death penalty."

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