ATLANTA — Georgia's pardons board rejected a last-ditch clemency plea from death row inmate Troy Davis on Tuesday despite high-profile support from figures including the pope and a former FBI director for the claim that he was wrongly convicted of killing a police officer in 1989.
Davis is scheduled to die Wednesday by injection for the killing of off-duty Savannah officer Mark MacPhail, who was slain while rushing to help a homeless man being attacked. It is the fourth time in four years that Davis' execution has been scheduled by Georgia officials.
Steve Hayes, spokesman for the Board of Pardons and Paroles, said the panel decided to rejected Davis' request for clemency after hearing hours of testimony from his supporters and prosecutors. The board did not elaborate on the decision in its written official response to the clemency application.
The decision appeared to leave Davis with little chance of avoiding the execution date. Defense attorney Jason Ewart has said that the pardons board was likely Davis' last option.
Davis' lawyers have long argued Davis was a victim of mistaken identity. But prosecutors say they have no doubt that they charged the right person with the crime.
Davis has captured worldwide attention because of the doubt his supporters have raised over whether he killed MacPhail. Several of the witnesses who helped convict Davis at his 1991 trial have backed off their testimony or recanted. Others who did not testify say another man at the scene admitted to the shooting.
The U.S. Supreme Court even granted Davis a hearing last year to prove his innocence, the first time it had done so for a death row inmate in at least 50 years. But in that June 2010 hearing, Davis couldn't convince a federal judge to grant him a new trial. The Supreme Court did not review his case. Federal appeals courts and the Georgia Supreme Court have upheld his conviction, leaving the parole board as his last chance.
MacPhail's relatives said they were relieved by the decision. "That's what we wanted, and that's what we got," said Anneliese MacPhail, the victim's mother. "We wanted to get it over with, and for him to get his punishment."
"Justice was finally served for my father," said Mark MacPhail Jr., who was an infant when his father was gunned down. "The truth was finally heard."
Kim Davis, the inmate's sister, declined immediate comment on the decision.
Amnesty International USA director Larry Cox said in a statement that the decision was "unconscionable."
"Should Troy Davis be executed, Georgia may well have executed an innocent man and in so doing discredited the justice system," Cox said.
Among those who supported Davis' clemency request are former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. A host of conservative figures have also advocated on his behalf, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, ex-Justice Department official Larry Thompson and one-time FBI Director William Sessions.
Davis' legal team said in a statement it was "incredibly disappointed" by the board's decision.
"The death penalty should not be exercised where doubt exists about the guilt of the accused. The Board did not follow that standard here," he said. "The state's case against Mr. Davis, based largely on discredited eyewitness testimony and an inaccurate ballistics report, cannot resolve the significant, lingering doubts that exist here."