Two men sitting on Death Row are scheduled to die tonight, both by lethal injection, and both in two of the most racially charged cases in recent memory.
One is Troy Davis, a black man who was convicted of killing a white off-duty police officer in Savannah, Georgia, in 1989. The other is Lawrence Brewer, a white man who in 1998 participated in the grisly murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man whom Brewer and two other men attacked. They slit his throat, chained him to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him down an old country road in Jasper, Texas, until his head and limbs were torn from his body.
The two men are scheduled to die at the same time, Brewer at 6 p.m. Central Time and Davis at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.
The similarities in the two cases end there.
While an ex-president, former federal officials, the pope and millions of supporters worldwide have called for clemency in the Davis case, few have suggested that Brewer should be spared.
Davis has maintained his innocence. No weapon or physical evidence was ever found linking Davis to the killing of officer Mark MacPhail in a Burger King parking lot. Seven of nine witnesses who initially fingered him have since recanted, some saying that they were forced by police to identify Davis as the shooter.
Brewer, on the other hand, has reveled in his crime. His rap sheet included stints in prison for drug possession and burglary. He joined a white supremacist gang while locked up. In jailhouse letters written after Brewer was arrested for the Byrd murder, he boasted about the killing and the thrill of it.
"Well, I did it," Brewer wrote in a letter introduced during court proceedings, according to published reports. "And no longer am I a virgin. It was a rush, and I'm still licking my lips for more."
He also wrote to one of his co-defendants that they had become bigger stars than O.J. Simpson and that he welcomed the death penalty. Lethal injection, he wrote, would be "a little old sleeping medicine."
To this day, Brewer remains unrepentant. "As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets," Brewer told KHOU 11 News in Houston on Tuesday. "No, I'd do it all over again, to tell you the truth."
James Byrd's family has asked that Brewer's life be spared.
"You can't fight murder with murder," Ross Byrd, 32, the victim's son told Reuters on Tuesday. "Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want."
"Life goes on," he said. "I've got responsibilities that I have every day. It's not on the front page of my mind. I'm looking for happy times."
The Byrd family held a vigil in Jasper on Tuesday, the eve of Brewer's execution.
"He has no remorse and I feel sorry for him, but forgiveness brings about healing. We had begun to heal a long time ago," Betty Boatner, Byrd's sister, told television station KPRC in Houston. "We're praying for his family as well as our family, and for the citizens of Jasper. We already made peace with it a long time ago."
More than 700 miles away in Jackson, Georgia, the MacPhail family have been long awaiting Troy Davis' execution.
"That's what we wanted, and that's what we got," Anneliese MacPhail, the mother of murdered officer Mark MacPhail, told the Associated Press. "We wanted to get it over with, and for him to get his punishment."
"Justice was finally served for my father," said Mark MacPhail Jr., the officer's son.
Yesterday morning Troy Davis' family got the news that their last chance of saving Davis had faded, as the pardon board refused to grant him clemency. The family visited him for a few hours, and later a group of supporters joined Davis in a prison visiting room reserved for death row inmates.
They gathered around him, prayed and listened as he told them to go out and keep fighting for men like him, who he said had been falsely convicted, according to Edward DuBose, president of Gerogia's branch of the N.A.A.C.P, who was among the visitors.
Indeed, last-minute appeals were being made to the local district attorney and to the state's board of parole and pardons. Others have suggested asking President Barack Obama to intervene, though he has no jurisdiction in the case.
Others have taken to petitions and even Twitter to pressure authorities.
The hashtags #troydavis and #toomuchdoubt have shown up in the Twitter feeds of thousands of supporters.
With only hours before Davis' scheduled execution, the flooding of websites, signatures and phone calls to officials and politicians might not be enough to sway the hands of Georgia justice.
If all goes as planned in Texas and Georgia tonight, two men will die, both by lethal injection. But the circumstances surrounding these two men could not be more different.