Reporters describe witnessing Troy Davis execution

AJC | AP | WSAV | Ledger-Enquirer

Atlanta Journal-Constitution veteran crime reporter Rhonda Cook has witnessed 12 executions, including the Wednesday death of Troy Davis. "Media witnesses are as much a part of the execution process as the officers who escort the inmate to the death chamber or the officers who strap the condemned to a gurney," she writes.

Cook was one of five reporters in the viewing area. Also in the room was JoAnn Merrigan, a broadcast journalist from the NBC affiliate in Savannah, Ga., where police officer Mark MacPhail was killed -- the crime for which Davis was sentenced to death.

And Associated Press reporter Greg Bluestein, who writes, "It didn't take long to notice Troy Davis' execution was different from the others I've covered. As I drove up to the prison, I could see the crowds of protesters and a group of at least 50 reporters." He describes the scene.

There were four reporters besides me there to witness the execution. We ended up waiting for more than four hours in a somber prison break room. We made small talk and speculated about whether the U.S. Supreme Court could intervene. At times, it was silent.

Around 10:30 p.m., a guard walked in and said: "You ready?"

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reporter Jim Mustian explains:

Voice recorder, iPhone, pen, note pad, phone, wallet, keys, press credentials – all of these items would not be at my disposal as I watched Davis die.

Even for a newspaperman, death is often distant. You don’t always see the triple homicide as it happens, or feel the flames of the fatal fire. Even in covering capital cases, the penalty remains abstract – a sentence in court documents.

Not tonight.

As the journalists waited, Mustian was curious about the delay.

Would we wait until 2 or 3 a.m.? Did my editors know something I didn’t? What about deadline?

Unlike me, all three of my media colleagues had witnessed multiple executions – one writer had seen about a dozen – and they cautioned against reading too much into the delay. After years of appeals, Davis’ fate rested in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. ...

Perhaps we won't ever know to an absolute certainty each detail of what happened in that Burger King parking lot in Savannah on Aug. 19, 1989. I was three years old and wasn't there. People who were have since changed their testimony.

But I can say unequivocally that I will never forget the events of Sept. 21, 2011.

Related: Troy Davis execution raises questions about episodic coverage of death penalty


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