Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Supreme Court issues stay of execution forTroy Davis

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

September 23, 2008

Jackson — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a stay of execution for Troy Anthony Davis less than two hours before he was to be put to death by lethal injection.

Davis’ family and supporters, who for years have pressed for a new trial on claims Davis is innocent, broke into tears and song when they learned the high court had at least temporarily postponed the execution.

Troy Davis received a stay of execution just before he was set to receive a lethal injection for the 1989 murder of a Savannah police officer.

“I’ve been praying for this moment forever,” said Davis’s sister and most outspoken proponent, Martina Correia. Davis’ mother, Virginia Davis, said God had answered their prayers.

Just a few hours earlier, the mother and sister had given Davis what they thought could be their final good-byes at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

Davis, 39, sits on death row for the Aug. 19, 1989, killing of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. He was scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m.

Annelie Reaves, MacPhail’s sister, said the victim’s family was furious but would wait for the execution to be rescheduled.

“It should have happened today,” she said, “but justice will be served.”

At least two members of MacPhail’s family were to witness the execution, and they will return when the execution is rescheduled, Reaves said.

In response to Davis’ hope that the real killer will be found, the officer’s family and friends all laughed. “He knows who the killer is,” Reaves said of Davis.

It was the second time that Davis, whose claims of innocence have attracted international attention, was granted a stay hours before he was to be put to death. In July 2007, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles postponed his execution less than 24 hours before it was to occur.

This time, the stay came from the nation’s highest court.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s justices are scheduled to meet Monday to decide whether to hear Davis’ appeal of a ruling issued by the Georgia Supreme Court in March. In that 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court rejected Davis’ bid for a new trial or a court hearing to present new evidence.

In its order, the U.S. Supreme Court said if the justices decline to hear Davis’ case, “this stay shall terminate automatically.” If the court agrees to hear the case, the stay will remain in force until the high court issues its ultimate ruling, the order said.

The high court did not say when it would announce its decision whether to hear or deny Davis’ appeal.

Davis disclosed the news of his stay in a phone call to his sister and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton.

“I truly feel blessed and I know we still have work to do,” Davis said, according to Sharpton. “With God, all things are possible.”

According to Sharpton, Davis said he had already recorded his last statement, as is customary for death-row inmates before they are to be executed. Davis said he had also prayed for the family of MacPhail, a 27-year-old father of two who was gunned down at a Savannah Burger King parking lot.

Because the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce whether it will hear the appeal in the next week or so, Davis may not be spared for long, Sharpton said.

“One week may not seem like a long time, but when you have only two hours to live it’s a lifetime,” he added.

Lester Davis, Troy Davis’ brother, said, “I’ve got to stay focused because it’s not over yet. Hopefully, this gives them enough time to understand the injustice of this case.”

Since his 1991 trial, seven of nine key prosecution witnesses who testified against Davis have recanted their testimony.

In March, a deeply divided state Supreme Court turned down Davis’ appeal, saying the recantations of seven witnesses who testified against him were not enough to win him a new trial or court hearing.

“We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict,” Justice Harold Melton wrote. The majority, he added, could not ignore the trial testimony, “and, in fact, we favor that original testimony over the new.”

Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears issued a strong dissent.

“If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically,” she wrote.

The new testimony, if found credible, could lead a new jury to find reasonable doubt of Davis’ guilt or enough residual doubt to impose a sentence other than death, she wrote.