Execution stayed, with 90 minutes to go
Article from: Agence France-Presse
By Karin Zeitvogel in Washington
September 24, 2008 12:19pm
- Inmate due to die for policeman's murder
- Statement of stay issued just 90 minutes before
- Seven of nine witnesses recanted or changed story
THE US Supreme Court has granted a last-minute stay of execution to an inmate due to be put to death for the murder of a policeman, with only hours to spare
"The application for stay of execution of sentence of death ... is granted", the highest court in the US said in a statement issued 90 minutes before Troy Davis was due to die by lethal injection.
International figures including former US president Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict, and Helen Prejean, a nun and anti-death penalty campaigner who wrote the book Dead Man Walking
, had spoken against Davis's execution.
Davis heard news of the stay on television at the prison in Jackson, Georgia, while he was waiting to go to the execution chamber, and fell on his knees, according to his sister Martina Correia.
"I am elated. But tomorrow we have to go on fighting because the Supreme Court has to take the case," said Ms Correia, who has helped lead efforts on his behalf for a new trial.
"We are deeply grateful for this stay of execution for Troy Davis and we very much appreciate that the merits of his case for innocence are being taken seriously by the United States Supreme Court," said Sarah Totonchi, chairwoman of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP).
What were to have been vigils around the state of Georgia were cancelled and replaced by celebrations on the steps of the state legislative building.
Lawyers for 39-year-old Davis, who has been on death row since 1991 for the murder of policeman Mark MacPhail, had pressed the US Supreme Court in Washington to take a motion for a new trial after judicial authorities in Georgia threw out appeals for clemency.
MacPhail, who was shot to death near a Burger King restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.
Davis has protested his innocence and his lawyers say it was a case of mistaken identity.
Seven of nine witnesses
who testified against him have recanted
and some say police coerced them into giving their original evidence
Four of those witnesses also say another man, Sylvester Coles, shot MacPhail, and three of them say Coles has confessed to the murder
, according to court papers.
The witnesses' testimony had been the backbone of the prosecution's case in the absence of a murder weapon, fingerprints and DNA.
The US high court was not in session this week and the request was heard overnight by just one member of the court, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas.
Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) welcomed the Supreme Court order to stay the execution and criticised the state of Georgia for trying to "ram this execution through".
"For reasons that are unfathomable, Chatham County officials seemed doggedly determined to ram this execution through
before justice could fully run its course,'' AIUSA executive director Larry Cox said.
"We are grateful that the US Supreme Court has shown the foresight to stay the execution. We hope that it takes up the case and looks at it with fresh eyes, marking the first time that evidence pointing to Davis's innocence will have been heard in a court of law
,'' he said.
Davis had originally been sentenced to die in July last year, but he was granted a last-minute stay of execution then by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole.
Earlier this month, however, the parole board issued a decision denying Davis clemency.
On Monday it affirmed that decision, and the Georgia Supreme Court on the same day voted six to one to deny a stay of execution for Davis, deferring to the US high court.
- With Reuters