MICHELE NORIS, host:
In Georgia, a man named Troy Davis is making his last appeal to a court and the state's parole board. He was convicted of killing a police officer and has been on death row for 15 years. Davis claims he is innocent and seven witnesses who testified about his guilt have recanted or changed their testimony.
As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports from Atlanta, human rights groups have now taken up Davis' cause.
KATHY LOHR: It was the early hours of August 19, 1989 in Savannah, Georgia. A group of black men had gathered in the parking lot outside a local fast food joint. Among them was Troy Davis. A fight broke out. A homeless man was beaten with a pistol. A white police officer, Mark MacPhail, was shot and killed. Two years later, in August 1991, Davis was convicted of murdering the officer. But Davis, speaking here from prison, has always maintained he is not guilty.
Mr. TROY DAVIS: I want my innocence proved one way or another. That's key and foremost. I don't want to die, especially for a crime I didn't commit. I want to make sure that the MacPhail family has justice, but accurate justice.
LOHR: Davis' attorney, Jason Ewart, was among those holding a news conference in Atlanta today. He says the Savannah Police rushed to name a suspect because they wanted to prosecute someone for the officer's death. But in their haste, Ewart says, they made errors.
Mr. JASON EWART (Attorney): The police were committed a day after the crime to that - the theory that Troy Davis killed Officer MacPhail. The question is, did they look at other evidence? Did they look at other suspects? I think the answer is no, they didn't.
LOHR: Ewart says the police coerced witnesses into making false statements. Since then, seven witnesses have recanted or changed their testimony. Some admitted they were lying on the witness stand. New witnesses have implicated another suspect, but none of that has been heard in court. The weapon was never found and there's no DNA evidence or other physical evidence in the case.
Mr. EWART: If you really examine the evidence now - the recantations and the new evidence - there is beyond a reasonable doubt that Troy did not commit this crime.
LOHR: Amnesty International, an organization that opposes the death penalty, is also fighting for Davis. Executive director Larry Cox says both state and federal courts have rejected Davis' appeals on procedural grounds. But the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles will hear the case next week.
Mr. LARRY COX (Executive Director, Amnesty International): We are here because the death penalty is a runaway train. It renders the defendant virtually helpless in the face of such machinery as incompetent defense, prosecutorial misconduct, racial and class bias, and mishandled or ignored evidence. That is what the justice system has meant for Troy Davis and his family.
LOHR: Cox delivered 4,000 letters to the Georgia Parole Board from people all over the world who believe Davis is innocent. Supporters are also seeking a new trial in state court, barring clemency or a new trial. Davis is scheduled to be executed, July 17th.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
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.