Seven witnesses have recanted their testimony in a Georgia death penalty case, but the execution of convicted murderer Troy Anthony Davis is moving forward.
Davis was convicted of killing a Savannah police officer in the parking lot of a fast food joint in 1989. The case, which has drawn national and international attention, was based solely on eyewitness evidence. Even though most of those witnesses have changed their stories, no court has heard the new testimony.
Davis is scheduled to be executed this week in Georgia.
Defense attorneys say that at the time of the high-profile crime, witnesses were afraid. They say police coerced them into blaming Davis, who is African-American, for the murder of off-duty Savannah Police officer Mark McPhail, who was white. Since then, the majority of the witnesses have recanted, and some even point to another suspect.
"Without a hearing, without the power of subpoena to get everybody that we need to get into a court to look at the evidence that supports these witnesses' recantations — that just never happened. And I think that leaves this case quite unresolved," says Jason Ewert, one of Davis' defense attorneys.
Davis received a temporary stay of execution from the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles in 2007, but a divided state Supreme Court refused to grant a new trial. The same parole board denied clemency earlier this month.
The Southern regional director of Amnesty International, Jared Feuer, says that to this day, no one has looked at whether the evidence points to Davis' innocence or to his guilt. He says the fact that seven witnesses recanted, combined with the absence of physical evidence or a murder weapon, raises too much doubt about whether the state is executing an innocent man.
"And that's why for us, Troy Anthony Davis' case symbolizes all that is wrong with the death penalty," Feuer said. "You have questions of improper witness handling. You have procedural obstacles that get in the way of the truth. You have issues of race and, ultimately, you have a system that can't go back and correct its mistakes," he says.
A diverse crowd of several hundred people recently marched from downtown Atlanta to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. There, the Rev. Raphael Warnock pleaded for Davis' life.
"We ask that the Board of Paroles and Pardons not commit this tragic act of state murder in our names," Warnock said.
Civil and human rights activists have amassed more than 200,000 signatures on a petition asking for a new hearing for Davis. Some 28,000 letters have been written on his behalf, and a broad range of people have spoken out against the execution, including Pope Benedict XVI, Rep. John Lewis, former President Jimmy Carter, former FBI Director William Sessions and former federal prosecutor Bob Barr.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles would not comment, saying only that it stands by its decision. An assistant district attorney in the county where Davis was convicted also declined to be interviewed, saying the courts have reviewed the case and it is time for the sentence to be carried out.
But Davis' sister, Martina Correia, says she'll continue to bring attention to this case — no matter what happens on Tuesday.
"This is bigger than Troy Anthony Davis. This is about a system of injustice we have to expose," Correia said.
Davis' attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. So far, seven Georgia inmates have been exonerated through DNA evidence and 220 nationally, but there is no DNA in this case.
Davis is scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday night.