WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for Troy Anthony Davis' execution, declining to enter a contentious debate as to whether the condemned inmate was the real killer of a Savannah police officer in 1989.
The court, without explanation, refused to hear his appeal even though seven of nine key prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony since the 1991 trial. Just three weeks ago, the high court had halted Davis' execution with less than two hours to spare.
Davis should find out soon when he will be put to death. It is the third time he's faced the prospect of execution in little more than a year.
The next step is for a Chatham County judge to set a time frame during which Davis' execution can be scheduled by the Department of Corrections.
Davis' innocence claims attracted international attention, with Pope Benedict XVI and former President Jimmy Carter among those challenging the fairness of his execution.
Davis was condemned to die for the Aug. 19, 1989, killing of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. The 27-year-old father of two, working off duty, was shot dead after he responded to the cries of a homeless man being pistol whipped in a Burger King parking lot.
The officer's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, expressed relief at the high court's decision.
"Especially for my grandson and my granddaughter," she said, referring to the slain officer's two children, now adults. "We can now settle down."
MacPhail, 75, does not expect "closure" if Davis is executed.
"There is no such thing," she said. "We will always be thinking about Mark. At least we won't have to go to court. We will have some peace."
She does not plan to attend the execution, although two of her four remaining children want to witness it.
"It doesn't give me any satisfaction to watch that," she said. "I still have anger in me and I'm afraid I would say something."
Davis' sister, Martina Correia, was furious .
"I'm truly disgusted by these people," Correia said. "I don't even know what to say. I wonder why I'm still a U.S. citizen sometimes."
Correia told her brother of the high court's decision.
"He said, ‘It doesn't make any sense. What do I have to do?' to convince a court that he is innocent," Correia said.
"I haven't given up hope," Correia said. "We're going to fight until we can't fight any more."
Davis' mother, Virginia Davis, 63, said police charged the wrong man.
"The real killer is walking around Savannah, bragging about what he's done," she said. "If they kill Troy, they have God to answer to. They don't have the Davis family to answer to."
Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International, which has supported Davis' appeals, condemned the high decision.
"It is disgraceful that the highest court in the land could sink so low when doubts surrounding Davis' guilt are so high," Cox said. "Faulty eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions and the hallmark of Davis' case."
Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta said the case was riddled with errors.
"The trial of this case has all the integrity of a professional wrestling match," he said. "It was deeply flawed, yet there's no way to correct it."
Since Davis' trial, seven key witnesses recanted their testimony. Others also have come forward implicating another man who was with Davis at the scene.
Eyewitness testimony formed the backbone of the prosecution's case. The murder weapon was never found and there was no DNA evidence or a confession.
But Chatham County prosecutors have long expressed confidence that Davis is a cop killer.
On Tuesday, District Attorney Spencer Lawton accused Davis' supporters of manipulating the legal process, using the news media and waging a public relations campaign to undermine confidence in the court system, all at the expense of MacPhail's family.
"While an 80 percent recantation rate...may seem to some as overwhelmingly persuasive, to others of us it invites a suggestion of manipulation, making it very difficult to believe," Lawton said in a lengthy statement.
He noted that each of the recanting witnesses was vigorously cross-examined at trial as to whether they were pressured by police to point the finger at Davis. "All denied it," Lawton said.
The justice system, Lawton added, has been "painstakingly indulgent" of Davis' claims, not dismissive as his advocates contend.
In the meantime, MacPhail's family has endured "a seemingly endless succession of new technical and substantive legal threats to their faith and hope," he said. "It should be obvious that the PR campaign intensifies the agony of the victim's family."
Davis' lawyers had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare that the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment bars the execution of the innocent and requires at least a court hearing to assess the recantation testimony.
The Rev. Al Sharpton announced the court's decision at a get-out-the-vote rally Tuesday at Morris Brown College. The crowd let out a collective groan.
Sharpton contended Davis' case is another example of the of the unfair treatment that African-Americans experience. "You don't have to go back in the day," he said. "We're still in the day."
Davis had been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Sept. 23. But, with less than two hours to spare, the high court halted the execution to give the justices time to consider whether to hear his appeal.
In July 2007, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles had halted Davis' execution less than 24 hours before it was to be carried out. Last month, after meeting again, the parole board denied Davis' request for clemency.
Staff writer Mary Lou Pickle contributed to this article.