U.S. Supreme Court Spares Man Who Killed Parents Amid Lethal Injection Concerns
Friday, September 28th 2007, 2:39 pm
News On 6
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ The U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution of a man convicted of killing his parents in the nation's busiest death penalty state after already agreeing to review another state's lethal injection procedures.
The high court, which refused a similar appeal earlier this week from another Texas inmate, blocked state corrections officials Thursday night from executing 28-year-old Carlton Turner Jr. The order came less than two hours before the death warrant would have expired at midnight.
Turner's lawyers had linked his case with an appeal from two Kentucky inmates who argued that lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel. Both states use similar injection procedures employing three drugs.
The justices on Tuesday agreed to consider the Kentucky appeal, and Turner's case was viewed as a barometer of whether capital punishment in Texas could be placed on hold while the Supreme Court considers that case.
``All I can say is all glory to God,'' Turner said when prison officials told him of the reprieve.
The brief order made no mention of the court's reasons for stopping the punishment.
It followed a decision earlier Thursday by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to stay the execution of a contract killer hours before it was to have been carried out so the inmate could be put to death using a new lethal injection formula the governor had ordered just a day before.
Turner would have been the 27th Texas inmate to be executed this year and the second this week.
After state courts refused to halt the punishment earlier Thursday, Turner's lawyers went to the Supreme Court.
In their appeal, his lawyers said that if the first of the three drugs failed to knock Turner unconscious ``the inmate will experience excruciating pain and torture as the second and third drugs are administered.''
The Supreme Court isn't expected to rule on the Kentucky case until some time next year.
Another Texas execution is scheduled for next week, one of at least three more set for this year. The status of that case was uncertain in light of Thursday's developments.
In their response to Turner's appeal, the Texas attorney general's office said that unlike the Kentucky case, Turner had a pending execution and the appeal questioning lethal injection was filed the day he was to die.
Only two days earlier, another Texas inmate was executed just hours after the justices announced their intention to review the Kentucky case. Lawyers attributed that execution to the short period they had to prepare appeals for convicted killer Michael Richard. The justices did consider an appeal before turning it down, and Richard was executed after about a two-hour delay.
Turner was 19 when he shot Carlton Turner Sr., 43, and Tonya Turner, 40, several times in the head. Prosecutors said Turner had dragged the bodies through the house before dumping them in the garage, then had friends over that weekend for a party.
In Alabama, Riley said he issued the 45-day stay of Tommy Arthur's execution only to allow time for the new lethal-injection procedures to be put in place. The changes are designed to make sure the inmate is unconscious when given drugs to stop the heart and lungs.
Riley said evidence is ``overwhelming'' that Arthur is guilty ``and he will be executed for his crime.'' The governor encouraged the attorney general's office to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to set another execution date ``as soon as possible.''
Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said the request would be filed with the court Friday.
Before Riley issued his stay, state officials had said they intended to execute Arthur at 6 p.m. Thursday, even though the changes Riley ordered could not be implemented by then.
They said the procedures already in place were constitutional, though Arthur's attorney, Suhana Han, contended that Riley's order to change the protocol amounted to the state conceding that its execution procedure was deficient. Han did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.
Arthur, 65, was sentenced to death for the Feb. 1, 1982, killing of Troy Wicker, 35, of Muscle Shoals. The victim's wife, Judy Wicker, testified she had sex with Arthur and paid him $10,000 to kill her husband, who was shot in the face as he lay in bed.
Arthur was visiting with his daughter when he learned of the stay in a call from his attorney, prison system spokesman Brian Corbett said.
Like Turner, Arthur had asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay pending its ruling on the Kentucky case. The Alabama Supreme Court had declined to grant a stay Wednesday.
The wife of Arthur's victim was given a life sentence for her part in the murder and paroled after 10 years behind bars.
In a statement, Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, urged Riley to use the next 45 days to allow DNA testing on evidence from Arthur's trial.
Another lethal-injection lawsuit, filed by a convicted ax murderer on death row on Delaware's death row, had been scheduled for trial Oct. 9. A federal judge postponed the trial Wednesday, citing the pending Supreme Court case.
In Tennessee, death row inmate Pervis T. Payne, whose execution is scheduled for December, is asking the state to wait until federal courts consider recent challenges to lethal injection procedures there.
The execution of another inmate was stayed in Tennessee before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Kentucky cases after a federal judge in Nashville ruled lethal injection procedures amount to cruel and unusual punishment because of the ``substantial risk of unnecessary pain.''