STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
After years of appeals and questions surrounding his case, Troy Davis will be put to death tonight in Georgia. This is Davis' fourth and final execution date after being spared three different times. A parole board hearing this week was his last chance at clemency. Several witnesses changed their testimony since Davis' trial, and tens of thousands of people have protested the execution. NPR's Kathy Lohr has this report.
KATHY LOHR: Davis was convicted 20 years ago of murdering Mark MacPhail, a Savannah police officer. MacPhail was shot while trying to help a homeless man who was being beaten in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant. Randy Robertson with the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police says many witnesses identified Davis as the shooter.
RANDY ROBERTSON: The jury of seven blacks and five whites made a decision within two hours, and it was a very well thought out and educated decision that Troy Davis was guilty.
LOHR: Robertson says shell casings link Davis to the murder and to another shooting that night. No weapon was recovered. There's no DNA evidence, and seven of nine witnesses recanted or changed their testimony. But prosecutors argue the new testimony is not reliable. Davis has always claimed he is innocent.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
TROY DAVIS: My faith in God all these years has kept me strong.
LOHR: In an interview from prison in 2007, Davis said the real killer was never caught.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
DAVIS: You should never be able to convict a man or even indict a person, man or woman, without any physical evidence, none whatsoever.
LOHR: Appeals courts on both the state and federal level have reviewed the case, and it's gone to the U.S. Supreme Court several times, including in 2009, when that court ordered an unusual evidentiary hearing. There the burden was on Davis to prove his innocence, but the judge said he did not accomplish that.
The case has gained world-wide attention with Pope Benedict, former President Jimmy Carter, former FBI director William Sessions and others asking the parole board to commute the death sentence. Laura Moye with Amnesty International says there's too much doubt to proceed.
LAURA MOYE: There's very compelling witness statements, people saying that the police coerced or pressured them into saying things they did not see or did not believe to be true, and people who made identifications under very dubious circumstances.
LOHR: In the past few days, the debate surrounding the execution has grown more intense. More than half a million petitions were delivered to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles in support of Davis, and several groups held a march and rally.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Stop the execution. Stop the execution.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) I'm going to let it shine.
MAN: Stop the execution of Troy Davis.
LOHR: Davis's sister, Martina Davis Correia, says there's no reason for the state to kill her brother.
MARTINA DAVIS CORREIA: I think that it would dishonor officer MacPhail to kill Troy, because he's - their family is never going to find justice. So if you're never going to find closure and you're not going to get to the bottom of the truth, killing Troy is not going to help anything.
LOHR: But Anneliese MacPhail, the mother of the murdered officer, says she has no doubt police got the right person.
ANNELIESE MACPHAIL: After the original trial and what we went through there, I said I am sure that he's the right man.
LOHR: MacPhail says her son's family grew up without their husband and father, and they've had to go through so much as the case lingered in the justice system.
MACPHAIL: It's been a daily thing in our life, and it's tearing me apart. I want to close that book so fast, it's not even funny. I want to have some peace, which I haven't had in years.
MAN: Gracious God, give us the courage to speak the truth and to yearn for justice and to seek justice each and every day.
LOHR: Vigils continue for Davis. His execution is set for seven tonight.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.