Image: Troy Davis
Georgia Department Of Correction  /  AP file
Death-row inmate Troy Davis, 38, has acknowledged being at the scene of a 1989 shooting, but he has repeatedly denied any involvement in the slaying of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. He insists his arrest was a case of mistaken identity.
updated 7/16/2007 10:31:54 PM ET 2007-07-17T02:31:54

A man convicted of killing a police officer won a reprieve a day before his scheduled execution, after his lawyers argued that several witnesses had recanted or changed their testimony.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday granted a stay of execution of up to 90 days to Troy Davis, 38, who was convicted of killing a Savannah police officer in 1989.

He had faced a Tuesday execution date before the board’s decision, which came after less than an hour of deliberation. The stay means the execution will be on hold while the board weighs the evidence presented as part of Davis’ request for clemency. The board must rule by Oct. 14.

Earlier Monday, lawyers for Davis pleaded with the board during a closed-door hearing to grant their client a reprieve. Prosecutors were then given a chance to rebut the clemency request.

After the decision, defense lawyer Jason Ewart expressed relief. “We are no longer under the gun, and we can present the rest of our innocence case,” he said.

The officer’s widow, Joan MacPhail, decried the 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 said. “By making us wait, it’s another sock in the stomach. It’s tearing us up.”

Also Monday, Davis’ lawyers filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court.

Prosecutor: 'The right man'
During the parole hearing, Davis’ friends and relatives spoke in support of the clemency petition, along with Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights icon. Five witnesses who testified at the trial spoke to the board on Davis’ behalf, Ewart said.

Lewis did not speak to reporters after leaving the hearing, but he did issue a copy of his prepared comments to the board.

“I do not know if he is guilty of the charges of which he has been convicted,” Lewis told the board. “But I do know that nobody should be put to death based on the evidence we now have in this case.”

Prosecutors and the victim’s family have argued that Davis received a fair trial and has had plenty of appeals, all of which failed.

“I believe police did their job correctly and found the right man,” the slain officer’s son, Mark MacPhail Jr., told reporters after his family addressed the board.

MacPhail said he told the board what it was like to grow up without a father. The son, now 18, was less than 2 months old when his father was killed.

The elder MacPhail was shot twice after he rushed to help a homeless man who had been assaulted. The Aug. 19, 1989, shooting happened in a Burger King parking lot next to a bus station where MacPhail, 27, worked off-duty as a security guard.

Conflicting testimony
Davis’ lawyers say seven witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony that they saw Davis shoot the officer, saw him assault the homeless man or heard Davis confess to the slaying.

Three people who did not testify have said in affidavits that another man, Sylvester Coles, confessed to killing the officer after Davis was convicted. After the shooting, Coles identified Davis as the killer.

The Associated Press has been unable to locate Coles for comment, and Ewart has declined to say whether he knows Coles’ whereabouts. Coles was not at the parole board hearing Monday.

Prosecutors argue that most of the witness affidavits, signed between 1996 and 2003, were included in Davis’ previous appeals and should not be considered new evidence.

Davis, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from prison, said last week that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

“All I have to lean on is prayer that God will step in and correct this wrong that was done,” he said.

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