Georgia Board Grants Stay Of Execution to Consider Case

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 17, 2007

MIAMI, July 16 -- One day before he was to die by lethal injection, convicted cop killer Troy Davis received a 90-day stay of execution Monday from a Georgia clemency board, allowing him time to press his case that he has been the victim of mistaken identity.

The prosecution's case against Davis, 38, has crumbled in the 16 years since he was sentenced to death for shooting a police officer working a security detail in Savannah. Most of the key witnesses in Davis's trial have recanted their testimony, and some have said they lied under police pressure.

But none of those witnesses testified during Davis's appeals -- in part because federal courts barred their testimony -- and Davis was scheduled to die at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

On Monday, however, five of the trial witnesses spoke before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the five-member panel decided it would be willing to hear more.

"Those representing Troy Anthony Davis have asserted that they can and will present live witnesses and other evidence . . . to support their contention that there remains some doubt as to his guilt," according to the statement from the board.

The board then suspended the death sentence until Oct. 14. Before then, it could reinstate the sentence or commute it to life in prison.

"It's not time to celebrate yet, but now we have some breathing room," said Jason Ewart, one of Davis's attorneys. "We still have some convincing to do."

"I said, 'Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus -- God, I know you was listening,' " said Davis's mother, Virginia Davis. "I was only asking God to turn it around so Troy's real story would be told."

But Joan MacPhail, the officer's widow, was critical of the board's ruling.

"I believe they are setting a precedent for all criminals that it is perfectly fine to kill a cop and get away with it," she told the Associated Press. "It's tearing us up."

Davis's defense team and some legal scholars say that this case illustrates the dangers wrought by decades of Supreme Court decisions and new laws that have made appeals courts less likely to reconsider death sentences.

After several trial witnesses recanted or altered their testimony, Davis's attorneys asked for an evidentiary hearing, at which the new testimony could be aired. But U.S. District Judge John F. Nangle denied the request, citing a federal law that limits the reasons under which federal courts can review death penalty cases.

"He's been waiting 16 years and no one has listened, they just turned away," Virginia Davis said. "But today they listened."

Officer Mark Allen MacPhail was working an off-duty shift on Aug. 19, 1989, when a fight over a beer arose in a Burger King parking lot between two men. Responding to the commotion, MacPhail was shot in the chest and face.

Lacking a gun or other physical evidence, police relied on witness accounts to determine the shooter and then get a conviction.

Since the trial, however, three of four witnesses who testified that Davis shot the officer have signed statements contradicting their identification of the gunman. Two other witnesses who told police that Davis had confessed to the shooting have said they made it up. Other witnesses say it was another man at the Burger King that night.

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