ATLANTA - The Supreme Court has cleared the way for a Georgia man to be put to death for killing a police officer, despite calls from his supporters to reconsider the case because seven of nine key witnesses against him have recanted their testimony.
The high court granted Troy Davis a reprieve Sept. 23, less than two hours before his scheduled execution. But the justices declined Tuesday to give his appeal a full-blown hearing, clearing the last hurdle toward his death by lethal injection.
It was not immediately clear when his execution will take place.
Davis, 39, was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of 27-year-old Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. But doubts about his guilt and a high-profile publicity campaign have won him the support of prominent advocates including former President Jimmy Carter and South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Davis' legal team said it was frantically searching for other recourse, but those prospects seem dim.
'I think it's disgusting, terrible. I'm extremely disappointed,' said Martina Correia, Davis' sister, when told about the decision. 'Well, we still have to fight. We can't stop.'
MacPhail's family said it was relieved by the ruling.
'I'm hoping that soon we will have some peace, that this will all be over,' said MacPhail's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, who is 75.
MacPhail was working off-duty as a security guard at a bus station when he rushed to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped at a nearby parking lot. He was shot twice when he approached Davis and two other men.
Witnesses identified Davis as the shooter. At his 1991 trial, prosecutors said he wore a 'smirk on his face' as he fired the gun.
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.
Prosecutors have said the case is closed. They also say some of the witness affidavits simply repeat what a trial jury has already heard, while others are irrelevant because they come from witnesses who never testified.
Amid the concerns, Georgia's pardons board postponed Davis' execution in July 2007, less than 24 hours before it was to be carried out.
A divided Georgia Supreme Court twice rejected his request for a new trial, and the pardons board turned down his bid for clemency last month after considering the case again.
Two hours before Davis' scheduled Sept. 23 execution, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the stay, sparking a celebration among Davis supporters.