TEXAS appeals court stays execution of death row inmate Napoleon Beazley

Wednesday, August 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Less than four hours before he was scheduled to die, convicted killer Napoleon Beazley won a stay of execution Wednesday from a state appeals court.

Beazley, whose case has fractured the U.S. Supreme Court and brought fresh criticism for applying the death penalty to teen-agers, was granted the delay by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

``Applicant is granted a stay of execution pending further orders by this court,'' the two-page order read. ``The applicant presents 10 allegations challenging the validity of his conviction and resulting sentence.''

Beazley, 25, was scheduled to receive a lethal injection Wednesday night for killing the father of a federal appeals court judge in a botched carjacking in 1994.

He was writing a letter in a small cell next to the death chamber when he learned of the delay, authorities said.

``I just have to comprehend this,'' prison officials said he told them.

Prosecutor Jack Skeen said he was disappointed by the ruling.

``We still hold the execution is proper and the just sentence in this case,'' he said.

Beazley still has an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a broader review of his case, including whether the Constitution bars executing people who were under 18 when they committed their crimes.

Gov. Rick Perry also could issue a reprieve.

Wednesday morning, Beazley, who was 17 at the time of the killing, visited with his parents before he was transferred to the cell outside the death chamber. He was accompanied by a spiritual adviser and a prison chaplain.

The case has drawn international attention and put the Supreme Court in an unusual position. The victim's son, Judge J. Michael Luttig of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., has ties to three of the justices.

Luttig clerked for Antonin Scalia and advised Clarence Thomas and David Souter during their confirmation hearings.

They did not participate earlier this week when the court refused to halt the execution in a 3-3 vote, with three abstentions.

Beazley would be the 19th U.S. prisoner to die since 1976 for a murder committed by a person younger than 18. He would be the 10th in Texas, where he was among 31 death row inmates who were 17 at the time of their crime.

In Texas, a capital murder committed at age 17 makes an offender eligible for the death penalty. In a 1989 ruling on a case from Kentucky, the high court said death sentences for defendants as young as 16 were constitutional.

Beazley was convicted of murdering John Luttig, a prominent businessman.

Luttig, 63, and his wife were returning home to Tyler when the slaying occurred in front of their house.

Testimony at Beazley's trial showed he stood in a pool of blood while going through Luttig's pockets, searching for the car keys. He abandoned the car a short distance away after hitting a wall, damaging the vehicle. Beazley also fired at the victim's wife. He missed, but she played dead while her husband lay beside her.

``The acts of Napoleon Beazley that night were a predatory hunt-down,'' Skeen has said.

Beazley, a football star at Grapeland High and the senior class president, acknowledged a darker side driven by ``peer pressure.'' He sold small amounts of cocaine and carried a pistol. The night of the murder, he had a sawed-off shotgun in his car.

``I'm a different person now,'' he said in a recent interview. ``You come here and you grow. I was a different person then.''

Beazley and his lawyers never denied his role in the slaying, but argued his lack of criminal background and his youth should spare him from the death chamber.

``Napoleon was a kid with good character,'' said his attorney, Walter Long. ``He just went on a downswing ... and ended up doing something horrible.''

Death penalty opponents from around the world have inundated Skeen with letters and cards protesting the execution. The European Union, through the Belgian Embassy in Washington, has urged Perry to stop the execution. The governor, however, has refused to halt any of the 11 other executions in Texas since he took office last year.

Amnesty International, using the Beazley case as a springboard, issued a report critical of the United States and Texas, in particular, for allowing executions in such cases.

Beazley's supporters argued Luttig's presence at his trial influenced the outcome. But the judge, who said neither he nor his mother would attend Wednesday's scheduled execution, denied exerting pressure on prosecutors.

``Given their experience and skill, it would have been foolish for me to attempt to direct the trial,'' he told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.