ATLANTA, Georgia — A Georgia parole board heard a last-ditch appeal Monday from Troy Davis, a convicted murderer just days away from execution whose case has become a global cause celebre for death penalty opponents.
In the latest protest, an estimated 150 to 200 demonstrators carried signs outside the closed-door hearing of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, saying, “Justice, Free Troy Davis,” and “We are Troy Davis.”
Another placard read: “Too much Doubt. Save Troy Davis.”
The parole board was expected to deliberate after the hearing and issue a decision in what is widely seen as the last chance for Davis, who is set to be executed Wednesday for the 1989 shooting death of a police officer in Savannah, Georgia.
Stephen Marsh, a lawyer for Davis, told reporters during a break in the session he was “thankful” to the board for the hearing and added: “We believe we have established substantial doubt in this case. Given the level of doubt that exists in this case, we believe that an execution is simply not appropriate.”
Raphael Warnock, a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church who attended the hearing, said one juror from the original trial was among the witnesses called by lawyers for Davis, who was not at the hearing.
Davis supporters say close to one million people worldwide have signed petitions calling for clemency, with petitions last week delivered to state authorities containing about 650,000 signatures.
Some 300 rallies, vigils and events have occurred worldwide, including in New York, Washington, Peru, Paris and Oslo, among others, and nearly 200,000 of the signatures have been collected in the last 72 hours alone.
“This case is extraordinary because there have been substantial questions of his innocence for almost a decade,” death penalty lawyer and Yale law professor Stephen Bright told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“It has attracted attention from all around the world, and the extraordinary number of people supporting him — and the prominence of some of them — is unprecedented.”
Seven of the nine witnesses who gave evidence at Davis’s trial in 1991 have recanted or changed their testimony.
Davis, 42, has repeatedly claimed his innocence and his supporters say the evidence supports that. No murder weapon was ever found, no DNA evidence or fingerprints tie Davis to the crime, and other witnesses have since said the murder was committed by another man — a witness who testified against Davis.
The case has became internationally famous as the face of what critics call a corrupted justice system in the deep US south, with a black man wrongly and hastily convicted of killing a white officer.
The US Supreme Court became involved in 2009 and ordered a federal judge in Savannah to convene a hearing to consider new evidence.
In August 2010, however, a US District Court in Georgia ruled that Davis had failed to prove his innocence and denied him a new trial. The top US court turned down a subsequent appeal.
Meanwhile, Anneliese MacPhail, mother of slain police officer Mark MacPhail, said she believed Davis was guilty in her son’s death, and that the courts have validated this. She said the execution should take place.
“I will never have closure,” the mother told CNN. “But I may have some peace when he is executed.”
Davis is scheduled to die by lethal injection at a prison in Jackson, Georgia, south of Atlanta, barring any late decision on clemency. The parole board is made up of five members and it takes just a simple majority to decide a case.
Among those calling for clemency are former US president Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and US actress Susan Sarandon. The Davis cause is also supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Amnesty International and many other organizations.