August 18, 2009 in Nation/World

High court orders new hearing for Georgia death row inmate

Greg Bluestein And Jesse J. Holland Associated Press

ATLANTA – The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a new hearing for death row inmate Troy Davis, giving the condemned killer a chance to present evidence his lawyers say could clear him in the murder of an off-duty police officer almost 20 years ago.

The court told a federal judge to hold a hearing to decide whether evidence “that could not have been obtained at the time of trial” could establish Davis’ innocence. His case has become a rallying cry for death penalty opponents.

Davis’ attorneys contend he deserves a new trial because new evidence proves he was mistakenly identified as the killer. They say several trial witnesses have recanted their testimony, and others who did not testify during the trial have said another man confessed to the killing.

Davis was convicted 18 years ago for the 1989 slaying of Savannah, Ga., police Officer Mark MacPhail, who was shot twice while working off-duty as a security guard at a bus station. He was gunned down after rushing to the aid of a homeless man who had been attacked.

Davis’ execution has been delayed three times, including a ruling by an appeals court last year that gave the 40-year-old another chance to press his appeal. The panel rejected the appeal in April, and federal and state courts have repeatedly denied his request for a new trial.

The ruling on Monday, however, may give new life to the case.

“The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing,” said Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer concurred with Stevens.

In a strongly worded dissent from Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Scalia called Davis’ claim a “sure loser.”

“Transferring his petition to the District Court is a confusing exercise that can serve no purpose except to delay the state’s execution of its lawful criminal judgment,” Scalia wrote.

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