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Thousands rally for Georgia death row inmate

Greg Bluestein

Thousands of supporters of a condemned man who claims he was wrongly convicted of murder marched Friday night from downtown Atlanta to a church at the heart of the civil rights movement, chanting "legal lynching has got to go" in a bid to spare his life.

The marchers were demonstrating for Troy Davis, who has captured worldwide attention with claims that he's innocent of killing off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. He's set to die Wednesday after years of delays, but his supporters hope to persuade the Georgia pardons board to grant him clemency.

Many of the supporters wore blue shirts that read "I Am Troy" and "Too Much Doubt" as they walked from a popular downtown Atlanta park to Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The rally was tinged with other reminders of the civil rights movement. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People head Benjamin Todd Jealous marched arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King III, and other high-profile leaders greeted the supporters as a gospel choir sang hymnals at the church.

"The reason it has attracted the world's attention is because it's so blatantly clear that there's no reason for that man to be sitting on death row tonight," said the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The case has drawn global support from others outside the anti-death penalty movement. Conservative figures, including former Rep. Bob Barr and ex-Justice Department official Larry Thompson, have urged Georgia officials to spare Davis' life.

The case attracted the support of high-profile figures and regular citizens alike because Davis' lawyers say several witnesses who helped convict him of MacPhail's killing have changed their testimony and that others who did not testify at the trial said another man has since admitted to the murder.

"I've always been against the death penalty, but this particular case galvanized me more than the rest," said Sam Hicks, a 64-year-old who joined the march. "I just had to be a part of this."

Prosecutors said there's no chance that Davis is the victim of mistaken identity, and MacPhail's family said they have no doubt the right person was convicted of the crime. The courts have repeatedly upheld the conviction, and a judge who was ordered to review Davis' innocence claims said his arguments amount to "smoke and mirrors."

The march plodded through otherwise busy downtown Atlanta streets, as city police officers looked on. Some chanted slogans, others sang songs. A ragtag band featuring a saxophone, a violin, a few drummers and a bicycle bell helped them keep time.

Amnesty International, which helped organize the rally, said more than 2,500 people participated in the event.

As the Rev. David Shew watched the marchers stroll by, he couldn't help but smile. After years of delays, he said, fate may be on Davis' side.

"Troy Davis isn't supposed to die. And that's why we're here," he said. "People are traumatized by this. They don't know quite what to feel. But they know an eye for an eye went out 4,000 years ago."


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The Associated Press