Rhonda Cook from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, JoAnn Merrigan of WSAV News in Savannah and Greg Bluestein of the Associated Press, who all have covered more than 20 executions between them in the past, were three of five reporters allowed to watch the controversial death of Troy Davis at Georgia State Prison last night.
Troy Davis, who murdered an off-duty police officer, was executed by lethal injection after a tense four-hour delay. Here is what the reporters witnessed:
Rhonda Cook, Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Just after 10:30 Wednesday night two words stopped the conversation among reporters instantly.
“Y’all ready?” a correctional officer asked.
We were moments away from witnessing an execution. Media witnesses are as much a part of the execution process as the officers who escort the inmate to the death chamber or the officers who strap the condemned to a gurney.
Wednesday, we were there as unbiased witnesses, sitting on the back row. Our seats were behind those there on behalf of the condemned and those who prosecuted or arrested Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. The dead officer’s son and namesake, Mark MacPhail Jr., and his brother, William MacPhail, were there for the family.
We spoke little from that moment on, the five reporters selected to witness the execution.
As the officer called our names, we lined up and left the room where we had waited for so long, oblivious to the last-ditch effort to spare Davis and the police presence and protests beyond the prison’s walls.
In the death chamber, we took our seats on the last of three pews.
Warden Carl Humphrey began the process by reading the execution order signed by Chatham County Judge Penny Haas Freesmann. “The court having sentenced defendant Troy Anthony Davis on the third day of September, 1991, to be executed….”
Then he asked Davis if he has any final words.
Yes, the condemned man said and he raised his head so he could look at Mark MacPhail Jr., who was an infant when his father was murdered, and William MacPhail, the dead officer’s brother.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Davis said.
Mark MacPhail, who was leaning forward, and his uncle did not move. They stared at the man who killed their loved one.
“I did not personally kill your son, father and brother,” Davis said. “I am innocent.”
He asked his family and friends to continue to search for the truth.
And to the prison officials he said: “May God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.”
He then lowered his head. He turned down an offer for a prayer.
Within minutes, Troy Anthony Davis slipped out of consciousness and in 14 minutes he was dead.
A three-drug cocktail ended his life. First pentobarbital put Davis in a drug-induced coma. The paralytic pancuronium bromide was second. Potassium chloride stopped Davis’ heart.
“The court ordered execution of Troy Anthony Davis was carried out in accordance with the laws of the state of Georgia,” the warden announced.
Curtains in the death chamber were closed and we were quickly ushered out.
Waiting for us at the media staging area was a line of correctional officers, deputy sheriffs and state troopers blocking protesters from crossing Georgia Highway 36 onto prison property and hoards of local, national and international reporters waiting for the reporters who witnessed the execution to describe what happened.
He went peacefully, one of the reporters said
Greg Bluestein, Associated Press:
It didn’t take long to notice Troy Davis’ execution was different from the others I’ve covered. As I drove up to the prison, I could see the crowds of protesters and a group of at least 50 reporters.
I’ve covered about 10 executions in Georgia. None of them are easy. This was by far the most unusual.
There were four reporters besides me there to witness the execution.
We ended up waiting for more than four hours in a sombre prison break room. We made small talk and speculated about whether the U.S. Supreme Court could intervene. At times, it was silent.
Around 10:30 p.m., a guard walked in and said: “You ready?”
We were led into a white van and, after passing through several security checkpoints, we were delivered to the squat white building on the edge of the prison that serves as the death chamber. We watched the slain officer’s son, Mark MacPhail Jr., enter the building. Behind him, Jason Ewart, the condemned man’s attorney, walked in. A county coroner’s van rolled up.
By the time we were inside, officials had already strapped Davis to the gurney. There was a glass window with a curtain separating Davis from the witnesses, who sat in three rows of seats. There were about 20 of us.
Davis searched for Ewart, who nodded slightly when they locked eyes. MacPhail Jr., sitting in the front row, focused on Davis.
When it was time to deliver his last words, Davis’ seized the moment, speaking quickly and confidently.
He told the MacPhail family he was not responsible for the death. “I am innocent. The incident that happened that night is not my fault,” he said.
Davis urged his supporters to “continue to fight the fight.” And just before the lethal drugs coursed through his veins, he offered a message to his executioners: “God have mercy on your souls.”
Davis blinked his eyes rapidly. He squeezed them tight. The curtain closed.
JoAnn Merrigan, WSAV News:
Prison officials arrived to take me to the prison at 5:45pm. I arrived at the State Prison in Jackson, Georgia at 5:50pm.
At 6:02, I was taken into a waiting room where I stayed for around four hours with no knowledge of what was going on. Every so often, someone would come in and say the execution had been delayed.
Around 9:00pm, I went to the bathroom and heard some people talking.
Around 10:20pm, an official came and brought me out into a hallway where I was told to stop. Three men, including the warden, were walking around. Attorney General Sam Olens was also there. He walked quickly one way, then the other. Then the prison official said it was time to go around 10:25pm.
I got into a car with three attorneys from the Attorney General’s office, and rode along with a caravan of cars to a building. The drive took around two minutes, and we arrived at 10:27pm.
I walked into the room and sat in the front row, about a dozen people were also in the room. The room had a window showing the execution chamber.
Two men came in, the warden and another man.
Then five guards escorted in Troy Davis and laid him down on the gurney. He appeared calm at this time.
The five guards began methodically strapping in Davis. They started with each foot first, then each knee, then each arm.
A fifth strap was laid across Davis’s shoulders.
At this point, Davis picked up his head to look around the room. I was about four to five feet from the window.
Two women then came in with heart monitoring equipment and strapped it to his chest. No one in the room spoke.
The two women then put a syringe into each arm, the left first then the right. Long tubes connected the needles through two holes in the cement wall. I understand that tubes were connected to two intravenous drips containing the chemicals.
At this point, Davis raised his head for a second time to look at the room beyond the window.
Two guards then placed surgical tape around Davis’s fingertips, strapping them to the gurney.
The bed was then raised to an upright angle, facing the crowd. I could see him clearly, being only four to five feet from the window.
I then moved to the back of the room. At this point, the family of Officer Mark MacPhail, including Billy MacPhail the brother, and Mark MacPhail Jr, the son, entered the room and sat in the front row.
There were also other witnesses, totalling eight people, who also sat in the front row.
Defence attorneys Jason Ewart and Thomas Ruffin came in and sat in the second row with others.
At this point, other media witnesses were brought in and they sat in the back row with me. A total of around 30 people were in the room.
About 15 minutes had passed since I first entered the room.
A microphone was turned on and the warden said, ‘We are here for the execution of Troy Anthony Davis with all witnesses present.’ He also asked that the witnesses remain silent. He then asked Davis if he had anything he wanted to say. Davis replied: “Yes.”
Davis said: “I want to address the members of the MacPhail family. Despite the situation we are all in, you think I’ve killed your father, your brother, your husband, I’m not the person, I’m innocent, what happened was not my fault, I did not have a gun that night, I did not shoot your family member. I’m so sorry for your loss, I really am. I hope you will finally see the truth and others will, too. To my family and supporters, thank you for your prayers and continue to pray. For those about to take my life, I forgive you. God bless you all.”
The warden then read the death warrant. Davis looked out at the crowd, and though he seemed calm, it did appear he was somewhat scared.
The room was very quiet when the injections began.
First, Davis received an injection of pentobarbital, a sedative. Second, he received an injection of pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer. Lastly, he was injected with potassium chloride to induce cardiac arrest.
After a short amount of time, Davis yawned then closed his eyes.
The room was quiet and all I heard was my pencil moving over paper.
A woman then came in and checked his eyes, then there was a ‘beep.’ Mark MacPhail Jr was leaning towards the window.
The microphone was turned on again, and two doctors entered the room wearing long white coats.
One doctor checked his pulse and placed a stethoscope on his chest. Then the second doctor performed the same procedure. At the end, the second doctor looked at the first and nodded his head.
The warden then said: “At 11:08 September 21st, the court ordered execution of Troy Davis was carried out in accordance with the laws of Georgia.”
I was escorted out of the room and saw a black Butts County coroner’s van of outside the building.
About 30 to 35 minutes had passed by the time I entered the room, until the time Davis was pronounced.