October 27, 2008

Troy Davis Execution Stayed

11th Circuit Stays Execution in Georgia Killing
Greg Bluestein
The Associated Press
October 27, 2008
A federal appeals court gave a late reprieve Friday to a Georgia man set to be executed for the 1989 killing of an off-duty police officer in a case in which several witnesses have changed their accounts of the crime.
Troy Davis, 40, was scheduled to be executed Monday for the murder of Savannah police Officer Mark MacPhail. But the three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the execution and ordered his attorneys to prove whether he can meet "stringent requirements" to press his appeal.
Davis' supporters have called for a new trial because seven of the nine key witnesses against him have recanted their testimony, and the doubts about his guilt have won him the support of former President Jimmy Carter and other prominent advocates.
It was the third time since July 2007 that Davis has been spared the death penalty by a late court decision.
"I'm ecstatic. This movement is building and building and building," said Martina Correia, Davis' sister. "This is going to crumble the justice system in Georgia if they don't do the right thing."
The victim's family was distraught by the news of the decision.
"For 17 years, this has been hanging over us. It needs to be finished," said Anneliese MacPhail, the slain officer's 75-year-old mother. "I'm very disappointed, upset, angry. Just put it all together. I cannot believe this is happening again."
[...] 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.
Coles refused to talk about the case when contacted by The Associated Press during a 2007 court appearance and has no listed phone number.
[...] Savannah District Attorney Spencer Lawton also said he doubts the new testimony meets the legal standards for a new trial. And while the recantations may seem persuasive to some, Lawton said, "to others of us it invites a suggestion of manipulation, making it very difficult to believe."
Davis was set to be executed in July 2007, but Georgia's pardons board postponed the execution less than 24 hours before it was to be carried out.
[...] Then, two hours before his scheduled Sept. 23 execution, the Supreme Court issued a stay, sparking a celebration among Davis' supporters gathered outside the state prison. A few weeks later, though, the high court cleared the way for the execution when it decided not to give Davis another hearing.
As their legal options dwindled, Davis' attorneys appealed to the 11th Circuit Court. In a brief filed Wednesday, they claimed the execution was "constitutionally intolerable" and asked the court to delay the execution to pursue claims Davis is innocent.
The court on Friday gave defense attorneys 15 days to file a legal brief on their arguments.
A death penalty expert said the court's decision was surprising.
"This is extraordinarily rare. The law is very demanding and the Court of Appeals is a very conservative court," said Stephen Bright, a death penalty expert who is the head of the Southern Center for Human Rights. "It's just not something that one would expect from this court." [...]

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