The state parole board spared a convicted killer from execution about two hours before he was due to die by lethal injection Thursday and commuted his sentence to life in prison.
Samuel David Crowe would have been the third inmate executed since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty last month.
"After careful and exhaustive consideration of the requests, the board voted to grant clemency. The board voted to commute the sentence to life without parole," the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles said in a statement.
Crowe, 47, was not present at the hearing in Atlanta. He had already eaten his last meal and was preparing to enter the execution chamber at the prison in Jackson, said Mallie McCord of the state Department of Corrections.
In March 1988, Crowe killed store manager Joseph Pala during a robbery at the lumber company in Douglas County, west of Atlanta. Crowe, who had previously worked at the store, shot Pala three times with a pistol, and beat him with a crowbar and a pot of paint.
Crowe pleaded guilty to armed robbery and murder and was sentenced to death the following year.
Board's action 'extraordinarily rare'
"David takes full responsibility for his crime and experiences profound remorse," said Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, an advocacy group, which welcomed the board's decision.
The decision to grant clemency on the day of an execution was "extraordinarily rare," said Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights.
In most cases, clemency decisions rested with a state governor frequently under political pressure to show firmness with death row inmates rather than with a clemency board independent of the state political process, he said.
At Thursday's hearing, Crowe's awyers presented a dossier of evidence attesting to his remorse and good behavior in jail, according to local media reports. The lawyers also said he was suffering from withdrawal symptoms from a cocaine addiction at the time of the crime.
The U.S. Supreme Court on April 16 rejected a challenge to the three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions, which opponents claimed inflicted unnecessary pain. Georgia executed a prisoner on May 5.
Georgia has executed 41 men since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1973 and this week it had 109 prisoners on death row.