A committee of five Americans was put on alert yesterday and told it would be given less than 29 hours to decide whether Nick Ingram, the Briton on death row, will live or die.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles was told to convene at 2pm next Wednesday to hear a plea for clemency from Ingram's lawyers and his mother, Ann. Its members will then vote secretly on whether to send him to the electric chair at 7pm on Thursday.
The board's members were contacted following a call to its offices in Atlanta yesterday by Ingram's legal team.
His lawyers plan to submit a civil suit against the state of Georgia, alleging that his proposed electrocution would infringe his civil rights, but the result of any hearing could come after his death.
An appeal to the board is generally regarded as being the end of the road in legal terms, although Jeff Ertel, one of Ingram's lawyers, said investigations were continuing in the hope of finding grounds for another appeal. "We will keep fighting right up to the last minute," he said.
Ingram, 31, has been on death row in Jackson, Georgia, since his 20th birthday when he was convicted of the murder of J C Sawyer, 55, and the shooting of his wife, Mary.
The evidence against him is overwhelming, but his lawyers argue that he suffered a blackout during the crime and they have questioned the identification evidence of Mrs Sawyer, who survived after she and her husband were lashed to a tree and each shot in the head.
Mike Light, spokesman for the board, said a phone call was received from Ingram's representatives yesterday promising a written plea for clemency on Monday. That will be followed by a hearing before the board, in private, on Wednesday.
Unlike almost all American states, where the governor has the right to commute a death sentence, such decisions in Georgia are taken by the board. Its members, appointed by the governor, are not judges but do have wide experience of the criminal justice system in the fields of law enforcement, probation, parole and the legislature.
It is not known for being soft on offenders. Since the death penalty was restored in Georgia in 1973, its members have reviewed the cases of 24 death row prisoners. Of those, 18 had their pleas for clemency rejected and were executed, and six had their sentences commuted to life.
Most of those allowed to live had the support of the sentencing judge or the District Attorney; Ingram has the support of neither.
John Major, due to begin his visit to America tomorrow, did not reply yesterday to a request from Ingram's mother asking him to intervene. Downing Street said the request was still being considered.