WASHINGTON - After nearly 18 years on death row for killing an off-duty Georgia police officer, Troy Davis got a break when the U.S. Supreme Court last week put the brakes on his execution.
The Court postponed until September a decision on granting Davis a new trial. Davis has been spared three times since he was first scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in 2007.
Various courts have weighed and rejected his appeals. After the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the request for a new trial in April, Davis' attorneys filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Defense attorneys claim Davis is innocent of killing officer Mark MacPhail and deserves a new trial after 7 out of 9 prosecution witnesses recanted testimony given at his 1991 trial.
When justices recessed for the summer, the Supreme Court had not decided whether it would hear Davis' appeal. They won't reconvene until September.
"It's definitely good news," Jason Ewart, Davis' attorney, told the Associated Press. "It's not just a move buying more time."
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous agreed.
''That's at least a temporary victory for...the tens of thousands of other people who have been working so hard to stop the execution of a man who's likely innocent,'' Jealous said in a statement.
While the Supreme Court's in recess, the next move would be up to Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm.
"As previously stated, the Chatham County District Attorney's office has no comment on the substance of this case until all appeals are exhausted," Chisolm said in a statement on last week.
Davis' supporters are working to pressure Chisolm to reopen Davis' case without waiting for the courts.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a population of 251,120, with African-Americans making up 41 percent. Black voters in Savannah and surrounding Chatham County were key to Chisolm's election as the county's first African-American district attorney last fall, according to reports.
Last week, the NAACP and a diverse group of religious and civic leaders delivered more than 10,000 hand-signed petitions from Chatham County residents to Chisolm. Another 50,000 petitions from around the nation were also delivered.
Jealous said he is going to publicize the case and recruit more people to work for Davis' freedom by wearing an ''I am Troy'' t-shirt. But he said he won't stop there.
''Our top grassroots organizers are on the ground in Georgia, meeting with lawmakers and ministers, mobilizing law studednts, and reaching out to District Attorney Larry Chisolm and other who could reopen the investigation and save Troy's life,'' Jealous said, adding that he's not against holding those who commit violent crimes accountable.
''But executing a man who might well be innocent won't accomplish this,'' the NAACP president said.
Savannah's NAACP President Prince Jackson said that the evidence will show Davis is innocent.
''We are asking that he be given a chance,'' Jackson told the press. ''After all, his life is at stake.''
MacPhail was slain 20 years ago while working off-duty as a security guard at a bus station. He had rushed to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped at a nearby parking lot, and was shot twice when he approached Davis and two other men. Witnesses identified Davis as the shooter at his 1991 trial.
Chisolm's predecessor, Spencer Lawton, was district attorney when Davis was convicted. Prosecutors under Lawton, who retired last year, rejected Davis' claims of innocence and labeled statements by recanting witnesses as "suspect."
The case has drawn attention worldwide, with former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Desmond Tutu calling for the stop of Davis' execution. Rallies have been held as far away as Paris.