Nun seeks reprieve for Georgia's Dead Man Walking

Sr Helen Prejean who gained international fame in the book and film Dead Man Walking has launched a last-ditch appeal to spare the life of a black man in Georgia condemned to die tomorrow.

The Australian reports that supporters launched the appeal to spare the life of a black man, 38, condemned to die for the murder of a white police officer, although witnesses against him admit lying under oath.

Tony Davis is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection late tomorrow for his conviction in the August 1989 fatal shooting of a police officer.

A Georgia state parole board was today to consider Davis's appeal for clemency, after several witnesses recanted court testimony fingering Davis as the triggerman.

But prosecution lawyers have discounted the recantations, and are urging the court to go ahead with the 7pm (5am AEST Wednesday) execution tomorrow at the state prison in Jackson, Georgia.

"It is deeply troubling to me that Georgia might proceed with this execution, given the strong claims of innocence in this case," said Sr Prejean, who gained international fame as the compassionate Catholic nun who counselled a death row inmate in the state of Louisiana in the book and film Dead Man Walking.

Davis was sentenced to death in 1991 for the fatal shooting of off-duty police officer Mark McPhails, 27, who was killed when he tried to break up a melee in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, while he was moonlighting as a security guard at a neighbouring establishment.

Twenty years old at the time of the shooting, Davis, who was singled out by several witnesses as the triggerman, told investigators that although he had been at the crime scene, he had no role in the killing.

In the years since his conviction, seven of nine witnesses have changed their stories, and now insist Davis was not the gunman.

They said earlier statements implicating him had been coerced by strongarm police tactics.

Despite this new evidence that could exonerate him, no state or federal court has been willing to rehear Davis's case. The US Supreme Court denied his petition for an appeal in June.

Human rights advocates, who have urged Georgia's parole board to spare Davis's life, have had harsh criticism for a criminal justice system unwilling to hear new evidence that could exonerate death row inmates who possibly have been falsely convicted.

"We must confront the unalterable fact that the system of capital punishment is fallible, given that it is administered by fallible human beings," Sr Prejean said.

Sr Prejean called Davis's inability to have his conviction reviewed in court a "textbook case" for capital punishment reform - if not an outright ban.

Supporters seek reprieve for death row man (The Australian, 17/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Sr Helen Prejean website
Stop Executions blog
Helen Prejean (Wikipedia)

Nun inspires " dead man laughing" (CathNews, 18/6/07)
Guantanamo "an aberration", Death Row sister says (CathNews, 27/3/07)

17 Jul 2007