SAVANNAH, Ga. -- An elite Army Ranger, Mark MacPhail left the service and became a police officer to spare his wife and young children from the base-hopping life of a military career. Troy Davis dropped out of high school in his senior year to help care for his younger siblings, including a sister with multiple sclerosis.
Both men inspired unwavering love and loyalty in their families that still runs deep more than two decades after one summer night forced the Davises and the MacPhails to opposite sides of a long legal battle that could end this week in a Georgia prison death chamber.
MacPhail, 27, was moonlighting off-duty as a security guard outside a Savannah bus station on Aug. 19, 1989, when he was shot and killed rushing to the aid of a homeless man who was being attacked. Police arrested Davis as the killer, based on eyewitness statements that two years later swayed a jury to sentence him to death.
"It was definitely not the Troy we knew," said Davis' younger sister, Kim. "It was very, very shocking when it did happen. It kind of turned the family upside down."
Troy Davis, now 42, insists he's innocent and his lawyers, arguing they could prove it, have managed to spare him from three execution dates in the past four years. After a series of appeals that received special attention from the U.S. Supreme Court, Davis couldn't persuade the courts to grant him a new trial.
With his legal options nearly exhausted, he now faces death by injection Wednesday night.
The slain officer's relatives say they're confident Davis killed MacPhail. His mother, Anneliese MacPhail, dismisses the inmate's advocates -- from the NAACP and Amnesty International to former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI -- as ill-informed interlopers who have only prolonged her family's push for justice. She says she's "cautiously confident" that will end Wednesday.
"I think I finally will have peace of mind," said MacPhail, who lives in Columbus. "When it is over I can close that book and I know Mark can rest in peace, too."
Kim Davis, the middle child of five siblings, says the family has never questioned her brother's innocence. She never knew him to have the callousness of a killer.