ATLANTA (Reuters) - Defense attorneys for executed Georgia inmate Troy Davis described on Thursday his final hours, a day after he died by lethal injection for murder amid claims that he may have been innocent.
Georgia executed Davis late on Wednesday for the 1989 murder of police officer Mark MacPhail, who was shot dead outside a Burger King restaurant in Savannah as he went to rescue a homeless man.
The execution became one of the highest profile in the United States in years because of doubts expressed by civil rights leaders, death penalty opponents and others over his guilt.
Seven of nine witnesses on whose testimony Davis was convicted in the absence of physical evidence later changed or recanted their testimony. Some of those said they were coerced by police to testify against him and some said another man committed the crime.
Hundreds demonstrated outside Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison on the night of the execution, an online petition gained nearly a million signatures, and France and the Council of Europe both called for a stay.
The execution was delayed for around four hours from its scheduled time of 7 p.m. because of a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But one of Davis’ lawyers played down speculation, rampant on Twitter and circulating among protesters outside the jail, that he was strapped down during that time.
Davis said goodbye to his family at around 3 p.m. but then was able to speak with them by phone until around 6.40 p.m., said lawyer Danielle Garten, who acted as intermediary during the call.
Davis had maintained a supportive relationship with his family despite being on death row and at the end of the final call they gathered round and yelled “I love you” into the phone, Garten told Reuters.
After that, he made at least one more call to lawyers, she said. A spokesman for Georgia’s Department of Corrections declined on Thursday to give details of Davis’ execution.
Davis had some optimism on his last day because since 2007 three previous death warrants had been stayed, said another defense attorney, Jason Ewart, who witnessed the execution.
“I think he had high faith that he was going to be able to avoid this one,” Ewart told Reuters, adding that Davis’ main preoccupation was with his family.
Ewart described the 15 minute execution as much more theatrical than he had expected.
“He was on display and the whole thing was set up for the audience and that’s what disturbs me now. He was not on a flat gurney. It’s a gurney that was tilted toward a giant picture window with a spotlight on him,” he said.
“They filled him up with a paralytic and he was looking at me and I could see him go limp. I thought he was dead but then I saw him breathing. He could tell what was going on but couldn’t move,” he told Reuters.
“The nurse walked up to him and opened his eyes and put the flashlight into them” before a lethal shot was administered, Ewart said.
Davis went to his death protesting his innocence, according to journalists who witnessed the execution. Members of MacPhail’s family said Davis was guilty and deserved death.
A federal evidentiary hearing in 2010, granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in an unusual move, upheld the original trial and sentence.