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Some who sentenced man to die doubt decision

In 1991, jurors unanimously said Troy Anthony Davis deserved to die for his conviction in the fatal shooting of an off-duty police officer. Now, they don't  agree on whether they did the right thing.
Troy Anthony Davis
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide soon on whether to hear Troy Davis' latest appeal regarding his 1991 death sentence in the fatal shooting of an off-duty police officer. Anonymous / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Inside the jury room, seven men and five women huddled around a table to discuss a parade of witnesses in the case of an off-duty police officer shot and killed outside a fast-food restaurant.

In just two hours they found Troy Anthony Davis guilty. In another seven, they said he deserved to die. Both times they were unanimous.

Since then, Davis' attorneys have delayed his execution three times — less than 24 hours before he was to be executed, in one instance — by raising doubts about those witnesses.

Davis has drawn support from the Vatican to the European parliament, from former President Jimmy Carter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The NAACP has launched an "I am Troy" campaign.

At least four have second thoughts
While the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide soon whether to hear Davis' latest appeal, one thing is clear: Those who convicted Davis in 1991 no longer agree on whether they did the right thing.

The Associated Press set out to find the 12 jurors, some of whom are speaking publicly for the first time since the verdict. In interviews or affidavits, at least four said they were having second thoughts, based on claims by Davis' attorneys that key witnesses have backed away from their court testimony. At least two others, including Raleigh W. Powers, stand by the verdict and say Davis should be executed in the killing of police officer Mark MacPhail.

"That's something that I have closed the door on. It's painful enough to make that decision," said Powers, a 78-year-old retired engineer who served as the jury foreman. "As well as I remember, he stood over this young man and shot him in the face. I wouldn't do that to an animal."

For Brenda Forrest, the decision to sentence Davis to death was agonizing — so painful that she didn't tell her husband she had served on the jury until nearly a decade after they married.

Forrest agreed to meet with Davis' lawyers when they tracked her down two years ago in Chicago, where she moved in 1999. After reading two affidavits signed by trial witnesses saying they were coerced by police, Forrest gave a signed statement of her own saying she felt Davis had been sentenced based on "incomplete and unreliable evidence."

Doubts about the testimony
In a lengthy interview, she said she has doubts about the testimony she heard nearly two decades ago.

"Maybe I might have voted him guilty, but never, ever the death penalty," said Forrest, a 53-year-old research and development manager. "That part is clear to me. If need be, take this thing back to trial."

Davis' attorneys say seven witnesses who testified against their client have signed affidavits disputing all or parts of their trial testimony. Others who did not testify at the trial have since said another man admitted shooting MacPhail.

Prosecutors stand by their case, saying Davis killed MacPhail, who was working as a security guard on Aug. 9, 1989. That night, the 27-year-old officer was shot twice while trying to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped in a nearby parking lot.

They say evidence presented at Davis' trial was solid and allegations that someone else later confessed to the slaying were inconsistent and not admissible in court. Several courts have agreed, including the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said in a 2-1 ruling in April that it was "unpersuaded" by the affidavits.

Conflicting memories
The AP sought interviews with the jurors for a clearer picture of what they remember from the 1991 trial — and where they stand on the appeal. Three of them have died. Of the seven reached by the AP, three — Curtis Wilson, John C. Smith and Theodosia Johnston — declined comment.

Two jurors, Michelle Strickland and Cynthia Quarterman, could not be reached. A current phone number and address for Strickland could not be found. Repeated phone calls to Quarterman's house rang unanswered, and there was no sign of anyone at her home when an AP reporter recently visited.

Powers, the jury foreman, cited the testimony of Harriet Murray, who told the jury she saw Davis pistol-whip her friend. And juror William Hilliard said her testimony and others helped sway jurors to sentence Davis to death.

Murray identified Davis as MacPhail's killer in a police photo lineup, and later pointed to him as the shooter in court, saying he had "a little smirky-like smile" when he pulled the trigger.

But Murray, who has since died, signed an unsworn affidavit in 2002 that gives a more vague account of the shooting and doesn't name Davis as the killer. Defense attorneys say it adds to the doubt over Davis' guilt, but prosecutors say it doesn't exclude Davis as the shooter.

Hilliard, a 64-year-old retiree who now lives in California, said he's "100 percent OK with my decision."

Key witness had legal troubles
"The prosecution 100 percent established the fact that it was Troy Davis," Hilliard said. The jury, he added, "was really satisfied with what we had done. There were no second thoughts."

But some jurors have second-guessed their decision since then. Four of them — Forrest, Wilson, Quarterman and Isaiah Middleton — signed affidavits presented at Davis' clemency hearing before the Georgia Pardons and Paroles board in 2007.

They said questions raised by Davis' lawyers made them doubt the justness of their death sentence, and Wilson urged the sentence be commuted to life in prison.

Middleton, 74, said in his sworn statement he had "genuine concerns" about the fairness of Davis' death sentence and that "another jury should hear all of the new evidence."

In a brief phone interview, Middleton said he suffered a stroke in 2000 and couldn't recall what led him to find Davis guilty. He also said he thought the jury had been charged only with deciding whether Davis was guilty and not whether he deserved the death penalty.

"I thought they were going to give him life, I didn't think they were going to put him to death," Middleton said. "Like I said, I just couldn't make up my mind that he really did it, you know what I mean?"

Powers, Forrest and Hilliard, however, said they understood the death penalty was their decision.

During the trial, Forrest was swayed by the testimony of Dorothy Ferrell, who said she witnessed the slaying from a hotel across the street. On the witness stand, Ferrell said she was "real sure, positive sure" that Davis was the shooter.

'Set the facts straight'
Years later, Ferrell signed a sworn statement for Davis' lawyers that she felt pressured by police to name Davis as the shooter because she was on parole for a shoplifting conviction at the time of the trial. Forrest said reviewing Ferrell's statement weighed heavily in her decision to question their verdict.

"If I had known the young lady had issues in her past that made her susceptible to being pushed into something, I would not have put so much emphasis on what she said," Forrest said.

Davis' lead attorney, Jason Ewart, commended those who have stepped forward to change their testimony.

"The vast majority of recantations came from innocent bystanders who don't know Troy Davis from a sack of salt," Ewart said. "This is exactly why Troy Davis needs a court hearing — to set the facts straight."

Hilliard, though, said he is not persuaded by arguments Davis deserves a new trial and is proud of his fellow jurors. He said they took exhaustive notes and decided to sleep on their decision before agreeing to the death penalty. The "legitimate" witnesses, Hilliard said, have not changed their testimony.

"If a person is innocent, naturally you want to save their lives," Hilliard said. "But that's not the case here. Unfortunately, it's not. And the fact that I can say this 20 years later and I don't have any guilt about it says it all."