In an exceptional move, the Supreme Court ordered a U.S. court in Georgia to hear new testimony on Troy Davis, who was sentenced to die for killing a police officer and whose case has drawn international attention, reports USA Today. The justices said a lower-court judge should determine whether fresh evidence “clearly establishes” Davis’ innocence. Since a jury convicted him 18 years ago, seven key prosecution witnesses have recanted testimony about what happened in a Savannah, Ga., parking lot the night officer Mark Allen MacPhail was shot.
The high court rarely intervenes in death penalty appeals at late stages. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said in a dissent that it had been nearly 50 years since the court accepted such a petition. Davis’ case comes amid growing questions about the possibility of innocent convicts on death row and courts’ treatment of evidence that emerges after a conviction. Execution dates had been set for Davis three times then postponed by U.S. courts or Georgia officials. In 2008, he was within two hours of execution when a reprieve came.