JACKSON, Ga. – The U.S. Supreme Court gave a reprieve to a Georgia inmate less than two hours before his scheduled execution Tuesday for the 1989 slaying of an off-duty police officer.
Family and advocates of 39-year-old Troy Davis have long urged he deserves a new trial as seven of the nine witnesses who helped put him on death row have recanted their testimony. His supporters erupted into cheers and tears when the stay was announced.
“This is not over yet,” said Davis, speaking to the crowd by phone. “This is the beginning of my blessing.”
Protesters had arrived by the busload, wearing blue shirts that proclaimed “I am Troy Davis.”
Davis’ sister, Martina Correia, vowed that her brother’s case would effect change in the state.
“We’re going to shake the foundation of the death penalty in Georgia,” she said tearfully.
Prosecutors have labeled the statements of witnesses who recanted “suspect,” and courts had previously refused requests for a new trial.
The stay will remain in effect while the court considers Davis’ appeal. Davis wants the high court to order a judge to hear from the witnesses who recanted their testimonies and others who say another man confessed to the crime.
Influential advocates, including former President Jimmy Carter and South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu, insist that there’s enough doubt about his guilt to merit a new trial.
A divided Georgia Supreme Court has twice rejected his request for a new trial and had rejected his appeal to delay the execution Monday afternoon. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles also turned down his bid for clemency.
Davis was convicted of the murder of 27-year-old officer Mark MacPhail, who was working off-duty as a security guard at a bus station.
MacPhail had rushed to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped at a nearby parking lot and was shot twice when he approached Davis and two other men.
Witnesses identified Davis as the shooter, and at the 1991 trial, prosecutors said he wore a “smirk on his face” as he fired the gun.
But Davis’ lawyers say new evidence proves their client was a victim of mistaken identity. Besides those who have recanted their testimony, three others who did not testify have said Sylvester “Red” Coles – who testified against Davis at his trial – confessed to the killing.