By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 15, 2011
The case has attracted international attention from human rights organizations and religious leaders as death penalty opponents argued prosecution witnesses either recanted or revised their trial testimony.
“The gospel that Christians proclaim is a gospel of mercy, love and forgiveness. We believe that the death penalty is not compatible with the gospel. The common good and public security can be achieved in other ways. The gospel calls us to proclaim the sacredness of human life under all circumstances,” said the letter signed by the four Georgia Catholic bishops, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama, Savannah Bishop-emeritus J. Kevin Boland and Savannah Bishop-designate Gregory J. Hartmayer.
The state Board of Pardons and Paroles is expected to hold a hearing to consider Davis’ bid for clemency. The board set the hearing for Sept. 19.
The Catholic bishops said they have profound sympathy for the family and friends of MacPhail.
But instead of the death penalty, people can be appropriately punished by a jail sentence with strict parole laws, said the bishops. The death penalty is “irreversibly wrong when there is an execution of a person who may possibly be innocent,” they wrote.
“It is urgent that you reconsider the sentence of death in this case so that our state does not make an irreversible decision to take the life of Mr. Davis,” said the letter.
Davis, 42, has been scheduled for execution three times since 2007, but courts spared him by agreeing to review his case.
Davis’ case was dealt a setback in August when a federal judge rejected his claims of innocence. U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. wrote in his findings that “Mr. Davis vastly overstates the value of his evidence of innocence.”
Mr. Davis was convicted in 1991 of gunning down Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail, who was 27.
Supporters say the case against Davis is shaky. Seven of nine non-police witnesses against Davis have recanted their testimony. No physical evidence linked Davis to the killing of the policeman, according supporters.
Catholics are invited to contact the individual members of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles before the clemency hearing, which is set for Monday, Sept. 19, at 9 a.m. In Georgia, the board, not the governor, has sole authority for granting clemency to inmates. The board may commute a death sentence to life without parole, to life or deny clemency. Letters should include a request that the Board of Pardons and Paroles grant clemency to Davis. Members of the board are: Terry Barnard, L. Gale Buckner, James E. Donald (chairman), Robert E. Keller and Albert Murray. The address is: (Board member’s name), State Board of Pardons and Paroles, 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower, Atlanta, GA 30334-4909. The phone number for the board is (404) 656-5651.
For a review of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty, view a transcript of a lecture given by Archbishop Gregory.