By Greg Bluestein
ATLANTA — Georgia is scheduling the execution for later this month of an inmate who has won widespread support for his claims of innocence in the 1989 slaying of a Savannah police officer, his attorney said Tuesday.
A Chatham County judge signed the death warrant for Troy Davis on Tuesday, marking the fourth time since 2007 that the state has a scheduled an execution for Davis. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution in March by rejecting an appeal by Davis.
Davis has exhausted his appeals, but his attorney Jason Ewart has said they plan to ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles for clemency. The five-member panel has the power to commute or postpone executions, but rarely does so.
Davis' case has become a focal point for the international anti-death penalty movement. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Amnesty International and dignitaries such as former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI have all urged Georgia officials to spare Davis.
The execution order, which was provided to the Associated Press by Davis' defense attorney Brian Kammer, sets a window between Sept. 21 and Sept. 28 for the execution. The Georgia Attorney General's office confirmed the order but didn't elaborate.
Davis has long said he could prove he was wrongly convicted of the killing of Mark MacPhail. The police officer was working off-duty at a Savannah bus station when he was shot twice while rushing to help a homeless man who had been attacked. Eyewitnesses identified Davis as the shooter at his trial, but no physical evidence tied him to the slaying. Davis was convicted of the murder in 1991 and sentenced to death.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 agreed he should have the rare chance to argue he was innocent before a federal judge. It was the first time in at least 50 years that the court had granted an American death row inmate such an innocence hearing.
During two days of testimony in June 2010, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. heard from two witnesses who said they falsely incriminated Davis and two others who said another man had confessed to being MacPhail's killer in the years since Davis' trial.
But Moore concluded in August that several of the witnesses had already backed off their incriminating statements during the 1991 trial — so it wasn't new evidence — and that others simply couldn't be believed. He ruled that while the evidence casts some additional doubt on the conviction, "it is largely smoke and mirrors" and not nearly strong enough to prove Davis' innocence.
Davis appealed, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear the challenge in November. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected it in March.
Martina Correia, Davis' sister, said she plans to help organize rallies and events to urge Georgia's pardons board to block the execution.
"It's devastating, but we've been in this place before — three times before," she said. "And now there are more and more people coming on board. We haven't forgotten Troy and we're working hard to step up. I'm sorry that we have to go through this, but we're going to fight like we always do."
The victim's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said the judge's order is one more step toward bringing her family closure.
"I'd like to get it over with," she said. "For 22 years we've been going back and forth and forth and back," she said. "I don't believe it until it's done, but I sure would like to have some peace."
Laura Moye of Amnesty International USA, which has helped stage dozens of rallies in support of Davis, said her group will ask supporters to send letters and petitions to the state's pardons board.
"We certainly hope the board will recognize the problems that still haven't been resolved in this case," she said. "We expect they are taking this case very seriously, and we want them to err on the side of caution, the side of life."
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Copyright 2011 Associated Press