The decision by the Board of Pardons and Paroles at least temporarily halts the execution of Roy Willard Blankenship, who was scheduled to die Wednesday for the murder of Sarah Mims Bowen, 78, who died of heart failure after she was raped in her Savannah apartment.
The board issued a stay until Feb. 17, but said it could lift its order sooner. The stay comes after an examination ordered by a Chatham County judge concluded that DNA evidence from Bowen's remains were viable for DNA testing.
Blankenship's attorney Brian Kammer had asked the judge and local prosecutors to allow the testing, which he said could indicate that another man raped Bowen. He contends that semen samples taken from Bowen's body, as well as hair and fingernail samples, could exonerate his client.
"Since the stakes could not be higher for Mr. Blankenship and because this testing would require a relatively small amount of time and resources, I urge you to consent to this testing," Kammer said in a letter to Chatham County prosecutors.
At Blankenship's trial, he testified that he broke into Bowen's apartment after a drinking binge, tried and failed to rape her and then bolted when she appeared to wake up. His defense attorneys claim while Blankenship was in the apartment, evidence suggests another man killed her.
But prosecutors said Blankenship confessed to the killings two weeks after the death. They also matched his blood samples and seminal fluid to the killing, and police said they were able to trace footsteps from Bowen's place to the area where Blankenship lived across the street.
Blankenship was convicted in a 1980 trial and sentenced to death, but that penalty and another issued two years later were overturned on appeal. At his third sentencing trial in 1986, he was again sentenced to die. But this time, state and federal courts upheld the capital sentence.