Courts halt two executions in final hours

Wednesday, March 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ The Georgia Supreme Court halted the execution of a convicted killer four hours before he was scheduled to die, saying it wanted to further review the case, which could be used to decide whether the electric chair constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

In another final hour reprieve Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the scheduled execution of a borderline mentally retarded man shortly before he was to be put to death in Missouri.

Tuesday's 4-3 ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court delayed indefinitely the execution of Ronald Keith Spivey, who was convicted of killing a Columbus, Ga., police officer in 1976.

Georgia is one of only four states to still use the electric chair, though both it and Florida have changed their primary means of execution to lethal injection. Georgia's General Assembly approved lethal injection for anyone convicted of capital murder after May 1, 2000, but the electric chair remains the punishment for those condemned to death before then.

``Electrocution offends the evolving standards of decency that characterize a mature, civilized society,'' Justice Leah J. Sears wrote in the high court's majority opinion Tuesday.

Attorney General Thurbert Baker and a county prosecutor asked the court to reconsider its decision.

Nebraska and Alabama are the only states to still use the electric chair as their sole means of execution; both states' legislatures are considering changes to lethal injection.

In the Missouri case before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, Antonio Richardson, 26, was granted a stay to give the justices more time to consider his case. He was to be put to death for his role in the 1991 rapes and deaths of sisters Robin Kerry, 19, and Julie Kerry, 20. Both were pushed off an abandoned bridge into the Mississippi River.

In Texas, meanwhile, where a record 40 inmates were put to death last year, an execution was scheduled Wednesday night for Dennis Dowthitt, 55, who was convicted of killing a teen-age girl in 1990.