September 21st, 2011
Troy Davis Executed in Georgia Despite Evidence of Innocence
On September 21, 2011, the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis despite evidence of his innocence. Davis, a black man, was sentenced to death in the 1989 fatal shooting of white off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia. Supporters of Davis, including the NAACP, Amnesty International, former President Jimmy Carter, and Pope Benedict XVI, had been encouraged by a 2009 United States Supreme Court ruling permitting him to present evidence of his innocence in court, but when the federal trial judge denied relief, the Court refused to review the case and an execution date was set.
Georgia's Board of Pardons and Paroles, not the governor, has exclusive authority to grant clemency. Two days before Davis’s scheduled execution, the board held a full clemency hearing, where it heard from Davis's attorneys and supporters, prosecutors, and the victim's family. By that time, seven of the prosecution's nine key witnesses against Davis had either recanted or backed off their trial testimony and others had come forward to give sworn statements that the State's main witness had himself confessed to the shooting.
The evidence undercutting Davis’s guilt was so compelling that three jurors who sentenced him to death at his 1991 trial urged the board to stop the execution. In addition, more than 600,000 people worldwide signed petitions urging the board to commute Davis's sentence, citing concerns that executing a man amid so much uncertainty about his guilt would deeply undermine the public's confidence in the justice system. The board denied clemency on September 20, 2011. In his final words, Davis professed his innocence, expressed condolences to Officer MacPhail’s family, and expressed appreciation to his family and supporters. He was executed by lethal injection on September 21, 2011, and pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m.