ATLANTA (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to a convicted murderer due to be put to death on Tuesday night amid doubt over his guilt and appeals for clemency from the pope and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
The court issued the stay hours before Troy Davis was to be executed by lethal injection for the murder in 1989 of police officer Mark MacPhail, who was shot to death near a Burger King restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.
Davis, 39, protests his innocence and his lawyers say it was a case of mistaken identity.
Seven of nine witnesses who testified against him have recanted and some say police coerced them into giving their original evidence.
Four of those witnesses also say another man, Sylvester Coles, shot MacPhail, and three of them say Coles has confessed to the murder, according to court papers.
The court granted its stay so it can consider whether to hear an appeal from Davis' lawyers when it comes back into session next week, according to attorneys who have followed the case.
Davis heard news of the stay on television at the prison in Jackson, Georgia, while he was waiting to go to the execution chamber and fell on his knees, according to his sister Martina Correia, who spoke to him.
"I am elated. But tomorrow we have to go on fighting because the Supreme Court has to take the case," said Correia, who has helped lead efforts on his behalf for a new trial.
Among those voicing concern have been Carter, Pope Benedict, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, Helen Prejean, a nun and anti-death penalty campaigner who wrote the book "Dead Man Walking," and former FBI Director William Sessions.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)