US state of Georgia inmate Troy Davis has been executed for the killing of an off-duty police officer in a case that has drawn worldwide support over his claims of innocence.
Courts consistently ruled against him, however, and the officer’s family said they finally have justice after 22 years.
Davis was pronounced dead at 11.08pm local time (04.08 today Irish time).
He was put to death for the 1989 killing of Mark MacPhail. The officer was shot to death while rushing to help a homeless man being attacked by Davis and others.
Davis’ global support came from high-profile advocates, including a former US president, the pope and celebrities.
Defiant to the end, Davis told relatives of Mr MacPhail that his 1989 murder was not his fault.
“I did not have a gun,” he insisted.
“For those about to take my life,” he told prison officials, “may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.”
Davis was declared dead at 11.08 local time. The lethal injection began about 15 minutes earlier, after the Supreme Court rejected an 11th-hour request for a stay.
The court did not comment on its order, which came about four hours after it received the request and more than three hours after the planned execution time.
Though Davis’ attorneys said seven of nine key witnesses against him disputed all or parts of their testimony, state and federal judges repeatedly ruled against granting him a new trial.
As the court losses piled up, his offer to take a polygraph test was rejected and the pardons board refused to give him one more hearing.
Davis’ supporters staged vigils in the US and Europe, declaring 'I am Troy Davis' on signs, T-shirts and the internet.
Some tried increasingly desperate measures, urging prison workers to stay home and even posting a judge’s phone number online, hoping people will press him to put a stop to the lethal injection.
President Barack Obama deflected calls for him to get involved.
“They say death row; we say hell no!” protesters shouted outside the Jackson prison where Davis was executed. In Washington, a crowd outside the Supreme Court yelled the same chant.
As many as 700 demonstrators gathered outside the prison as a few dozen riot police stood watch, but the crowd thinned as the night wore on and the outcome became clear.
The scene turned eerily quiet as word of the high court’s decision spread, with demonstrators hugging, crying, praying, holding candles and gathering around Davis’ family.
About 10 counter-demonstrators also were outside the prison, showing support for the death penalty and the family of Mr MacPhail. Mr MacPhail’s son and brother attended the execution.
“He had all the chances in the world,” his mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said of Davis in a telephone interview. “It has got to come to an end.”
At a Paris rally, many of the roughly 150 demonstrators carried signs emblazoned with Davis’ face.
“Everyone who looks a little bit at the case knows that there is too much doubt to execute him,” Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International said at the protest.
Davis’ execution has been stopped three times since 2007, but yesterday the 42-year-old ran out of legal options.
As his last hours ticked away, an upbeat and prayerful Davis turned down an offer for a special last meal as he met with friends, family and supporters.
“Troy Davis has impacted the world,” his sister Martina Correia said at a news conference. “They say, ’I am Troy Davis,’ in languages he can’t speak.”
His lawyer Stephen Marsh said Davis would have spent part of yesterday taking a polygraph test if pardons officials had taken his offer seriously.
“He doesn’t want to spend three hours away from his family on what could be the last day of his life if it won’t make any difference,” Mr Marsh said.
Amnesty International says nearly one million people had signed a petition on Davis’ behalf.
His supporters include former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, a former FBI director, the NAACP, several conservative figures and many celebrities, including hip-hop star Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
The US Supreme Court gave Davis an unusual opportunity to prove his innocence in a lower court last year, though the high court itself did not hear the merits of the case.
He was convicted in 1991 of killing Mr MacPhail, who was working as a security guard at the time.
Mr MacPhail rushed to the aid of a homeless man who prosecutors said Davis was bashing with a handgun after asking him for a beer.
Prosecutors said Davis had a smirk on his face as he shot the officer to death in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah.
No gun was ever found, but prosecutors say shell casings were linked to an earlier shooting for which Davis was convicted.
Witnesses placed Davis at the crime scene and identified him as the shooter, but several of them have recanted their accounts and some jurors have said they have changed their minds about his guilt.
Others have claimed a man who was with Davis that night has told people he actually shot the officer.
“Such incredibly flawed eyewitness testimony should never be the basis for an execution,” Mr Marsh said. “To execute someone under these circumstances would be unconscionable.”
State and federal courts, however, have repeatedly upheld Davis’ conviction. One federal judge dismissed the evidence advanced by Davis’ lawyers as “largely smoke and mirrors”.
“He has had ample time to prove his innocence,” said Mr MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris. “And he is not innocent.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, which helped lead the charge to stop the execution, said it considered asking Mr Obama to intervene, even though he cannot grant Davis clemency for a state conviction.
Press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying that although Mr Obama “has worked to ensure accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system”, it was not appropriate for him “to weigh in on specific cases like this one, which is a state prosecution”.
Dozens of protesters outside the White House called on the president to step in, and about 12 were arrested for disobeying police orders.