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Troy Davis: In defense of doubt

The night that Troy Anthony Davis was put to death, a fierce protest roiled outside his maximum-security prison in Jackson, Georgia. More than five hundred Davis supporters marched, shouted, knelt, wailed, cried, prayed, and chanted, many holding candles or signs proclaiming, “I am Troy Davis” and “Not in My Name.” Rows of state troopers and police in full riot gear watched over the scene, stepping in when the action became too heated, as dozens of media outlets swarmed the crowd to get the story.

Smaller, but similar, demonstrations were taking place in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and as far away as Paris, even as Davis’s legal team made a final, desperate appeal to the US Supreme Court.

And inside the prison, shut in a small, cinderblock room, Jay Ewart, a 2003 graduate from Emory School of Law, was missing it all.

As Davis’s lead counsel and the only attorney Davis requested at the execution, that evening Ewart had to be segregated in a holding cell off death row, along with the prison chaplain. Only that morning he had woken up, head spinning with frantic determination, and called a friend who works at the White House to ask if maybe President Obama could make a call on behalf of Davis. Now, after working intensely for more than seven years to try to stave off Davis’s death, he spent these last four hours in relative calm—no cell phone, no computer, no legal appeals, no media, just the chaplain and the ticking clock.

Despite the highly charged atmosphere, Ewart had every reason to believe that Davis would still be alive when he left the prison that night. They had been in this position before: the scheduled execution, the last-minute appeals, and the ultimate reprieve. In 2007, Ewart’s legal team presented evidence to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles that convinced them to grant Davis a stay within hours of the appointed execution time. The following year, the US Supreme Court stopped the lethal injection with less than two hours on the clock. In fact, last September 21 was the fourth time Davis’s death had been formally scheduled, and Ewart felt that the defense team had put on its strongest case yet.

So his main worry in those final hours was that Davis—who, after seven years, had become Ewart’s friend as well as his client—was strapped to a gurney and unable to move around.

“In 2008, I was in the same place, and that was an incredibly long shot,” Ewart says. “But things turned around, and we got to pack up and go home. We were ecstatic. I was sure we would get to turn around again.”

He was wrong.

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