High Court Won't Stop Ga. Inmate's Execution

Supreme Court won't hear Troy Davis' case, though seven witnesses recanted.

Oct. 14, 2008 — -- The Supreme Court declined today to intervene in the case of a Georgia death row inmate, clearing the way for him to be executed.

The court temporarily blocked Troy Davis' execution last month while it considered whether to take his case. Davis, 39, had been scheduled to die for the 1989 murder of a Savannah police officer, though several key witnesses had recanted their incriminating testimony. Davis' claims of innocence attracted national attention.

The court's refusal to hear his appeal means that Georgia can set a new execution date, said Davis' attorney Jason Ewart at Arnold and Porter in Washington, D.C.

Davis learned this morning that the court refused to hear his case. When he was told the news, Davis "said he doesn't understand," Davis' mother, Virginia Davis, told ABC News. "Why, if you have any doubts, would you execute someone? I told him we're going to hold onto our faith and believe it can be turned around for us."

Ewart said he was still exploring what other options Davis has at this point. "This was a decision based on law and not on the facts," he said of the Supreme Court's decision. "We still have facts out there that have not had a hearing."

Davis' case has attracted international attention because seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him in his 1991 murder trial have since recanted, several of them saying they felt pressured by police to lie on the stand and implicate Davis. Many of those claims have not been presented in a court hearing.

There was no physical evidence tying Davis to the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail and several new witnesses have come forward to implicate another man in the crime, Davis' lawyers say.

Former President Carter, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr and Pope Benedict XVI, among others, have called on the state parole board to reduce Davis' sentence to life in prison. The board rejected Davis' clemency petition last month after what it called an exhaustive review of the evidence in his case.

The Supreme Court's decision is "truly shocking, given that significant evidence of Davis' innocence will never have a chance to be examined," Larry Cox, executive director for Amnesty International USA, said today.

Several courts declined to stop the execution, saying there was not enough evidence that Davis had received a constitutionally unfair trial. By a 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court in March found that the new evidence probably would not have produced a different verdict at trial.

MacPhail, a father of two, was murdered Aug. 19, 1989, after responding to a fight outside a Burger King. Davis testified that he was nearby but was not involved in MacPhail's death.

The day after the murder a witness identified Davis as the killer. Davis had left town and surrendered to police a few days later, according to the Attorney General's Office.

Witnesses at the trial said Davis pistol-whipped a homeless man then shot MacPhail when he intervened.

MacPhail's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said she never had any doubts about Davis' guilt. "It's a relief that it's going to be over soon. This has been hanging over us for 19 years," she said. "It was hard to live that way, especially for my grandchildren. Now we can live our lives again."

Earlier, she had said that she was "disgusted" by the attention being paid to Davis.

"I feel disgusted about the whole case," she said then. "I lost my son, my grandchildren lost their father. No one thinks about all the tragic things that we are going through and then they are making a circus about someone who is guilty as can be."

Seven witnesses have since changed their testimony. Darrell Collins, a friend of Davis', said in an affidavit that he initially denied that Davis was involved in the murder, but "after a couple hours of the detectives yelling at me and threatening me, I finally broke down and told them what they wanted to hear. They would tell me things that they said had happened and I would repeat whatever they said."

Another witness said she was on parole and feared she would be sent back to prison if she did not tell police that Davis killed MacPhail.

"We need to have a day in court where a judge hears the evidence and explanation showing why that person likely did testify falsely," Ewart has told ABC News.

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