Troy Anthony Davis (born October 9, 1968) was convicted of the August 19, 1989, murder of Savannah, Georgia police officer Mark MacPhail. MacPhail was working as a security guard at a restaurant when he intervened in an argument between several men in a nearby parking lot. He was shot in the heart and face without having drawn his gun. One of the men, Sylvester "Redd" Coles, went to police and implicated Davis in the killing, and Davis was arrested four days later. During Davis’ 1991 trial, many witnesses testified they had seen Davis shoot MacPhail. Two others testified that Davis had confessed the murder to them. The murder weapon was never found, and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. Throughout his trial and subsequent appeals, Davis has maintained his innocence. Davis was convicted and sentenced to death in August 1991.
Many appeals in state and federal courts followed. Davis and his lawyers argued that the racial composition of the jury and poor advocacy from his lawyers had affected his right to a fair trial. Seven of the original nine eyewitnesses who had linked Davis to the killing recanted all or part of their trial testimony. Several stated they had felt pressure by police to implicate Davis. New witnesses implicated Coles in the crime. The appeals were denied with courts declaring that Davis had not provided a "substantive claim" of innocence and that the recantations were unpersuasive. In July 2007, September 2008, and October 2008, execution dates were scheduled but stayed shortly before the events took place.
Amnesty International and other groups such as National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took up Davis' cause. Prominent politicians and leaders, including former President Jimmy Carter, Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, presidential candidate Bob Barr and former FBI Director and judge William S. Sessions called upon the courts to grant Davis a new trial or evidentiary hearing.