More than 1,000 mourners came to Savannah, Ga., on Saturday for the funeral of Troy Davis. The convicted killer of a police officer maintained his innocence and drew worldwide support as a majority of the eyewitnesses against him recanted their testimony, but was executed in Georgia on Sept. 21.
The ceremonies actually began Friday, with a pre-memorial gathering, the Associated Press and CBS News reported.
At a church memorial Friday Davis was remembered as a gentle man who faced his execution with grace and dignity.
More than 250 people, including NAACP president Benjamin Jealous and comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, jammed the New Life Apostolic Temple in Davis' hometown of Savannah for the memorial that served as a prelude to Saturday's funeral. Friends, pastors, anti-death penalty activists and Davis' lawyer all took turns at a podium behind his closed casket, decorated with a spray of white and purple flowers.
Flowers at his memorial on Saturday were blue and white, reflecting Davis' "love of the Dallas Cowboys," the AP reported.
Do people executed by the government usually have funerals? It seems to be limited to instances when a convict's execution has triggered a protest of movement. Supporters held a memorial service for Stanley "Tookie" Williams, a co-founder of the Crips and murderer of four who became, behind bars, an influential anti-gang activist. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected pleas for clemency in 2005, and Williams was executed. Participants at the Los Angeles memorial service included Snoop Dogg and Louis Farrakhan.
For the most notorious killers – especially those for whom guilt is not in doubt – public memorials are rare. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is said to have considered but ultimately rejected having his ashes scattered on the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, where his bomb killed 168 people. His lawyer disposed of his remains privately. The serial killer Aileen Wuornos' ashes were spread under a tree in Michigan, according to Wikipedia; she also requested that Natalie Merchant's song, "Carnival," be played, since it had brought her solace in prison.
The Davis family chose to make the funeral a public event out of defiance, supporters told the AP, as another attempt to convince the nation that it had watched the execution of an innocent man.
Davis' family has opted to open the funeral Saturday to his supporters and the general public, holding the service at a church that organizers say can seat 2,000 people. The pastor who will deliver the eulogy said he hopes Davis' funeral will serve as wake-up call on the death penalty much like the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till shocked Americans to the brutal realities of Jim Crow.
"Like Emmett Till's mother insisted on an open casket funeral in a way that the world could see the injustice of Jim Crow, it's much to the Davis family's credit that they have been willing in the midst of their personal pain to see that we are talking about a larger, national moral crisis," the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.