Tuesday marked the 10-year point since the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis despite increasing suspicions of his innocence following his conviction for killing an off-duty police officer.
Davis denied committing the murder throughout his prison sentence and up until he was literally on his deathbed when he sat up on the gurney to which he was strapped and looked the family of Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail in their eyes to repeat claims of his innocence in the 1989 killing.
“I did not have a gun,” he told them before turning his attention to his soon-to-be executioners.
“For those about to take my life,” Davis said to prison officials, “may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.”
But according to the transcript from audio of Davis’ last moments alive, his final words were, “continue to fight this fight,” a message to his supporters and death penalty opponents who unsuccessfully lobbied for a fourth stay of the execution following three others since 2007.
Davis was convicted in 1991 for killing MacPhail, who was working as a security guard at the time of his death. In the murder trial, prosecutors described Davis as a criminal beating up a homeless person who MacPhail rushed to save before David shot him to death.
But no gun was ever found, no physiocal evidence was ever linked to Davis and witnesses who said he was the gunman later changed their stories. Jurors who convicted Davis have also said they no longer believed he was guilty. Other witnesses have said Davis was not the gunman.
MacPhail’s family was said to be happy at Davis’ execution.
“He has had ample time to prove his innocence,” MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris, said at the time. “And he is not innocent.”
Take a look back at the execution of Troy Davis in 2012 and what led to that fateful moment.
On Sept. 21, 2011, Davis was administered a lethal injection of drugs before being declared dead 15 minutes later at 11:08 p.m. The Supreme Court rejected a last-minute request for a stay. Hundreds of protesters — some holding “I am Troy Davis” signs and others wearing t-shirts bearing that same phrase — demonstrated outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in the town of Jackson.
Hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition bringing attention to the doubt surrounding Davis’ conviction. Some of the signees included influential figures like former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, the NAACP and a number of hip-hop stars.
Calls for President Barack Obama to step in were not effective.
In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Davis’ request to delay his execution as he attempted to prove his innocence.
Justice John Paul Stevens ordered a federal judge to “receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at trial clearly establishes petitioner’s innocence.”
The judge ruled in 2010 that Davis did not prove his innocence and ordered him to stay on death row.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Davis, clearing the way for Georgia to resume planning for his execution.
Months later, Georgia set Sept. 21 of that same year as Davis’ execution date.
That prompted the NAACP to take up Davis’ case more vigorously.
National Action Network (NAN) founder Rev. Al Sharpton and former FBI director William S. Sessions also joined the fight.
“Serious questions about Mr. Davis’ guilt, highlighted by witness recantations, allegations of police coercion, and a lack of relevant physical evidence, continue to plague his conviction,” Sessions said at the time.
Days later, it was announced that the five-member Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles — which has the power to change death sentences but rarely does. — was considering arguments surrounding Davis.
“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 Amnesty International’s Laura Moye, who gave the board petitions supporting of Davis. “The very reputation and faith that this public has in its justice system is on the line.”
But the optimism quickly gave way to reality after the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Davis’ request for clemency.
As Sept. 21 rolled around, Sharpton called the decision to execute Davis “a bleak day for anyone who cares about justice in this country.”
On the date of his execution, Davis released a public letter thanking people for advocating omn his behalf and expressing his opinion on the death penalty.
“There are so many more Troy Davis’,” he wrote in part. “This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.”
Davis added: I can’t wait to Stand with you, no matter if that is in physical or spiritual form, I will one day be announcing, ‘I AM TROY DAVIS, and I AM FREE!'”
Davis’ execution led to calls for a death penalty moratorium in the United States.
“We must not only mourn what happened to Troy Davis but take strong measures so that it does happen again. I promised Troy when I got involved in this case in 2007 that NAN and I no matter what the outcome would fight to change the law,” Sharpton said at the time. “We are calling upon the federal government to supercede and set boundaries before any State can move forward with capital punishment prosecution.”
A reporter who covered Davis’ execution recalled that it was “by far the most unusual” of the previous executions he reported on.