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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

And after the 405th Texas execution, there is a de facto moratorium

It appears that the stay of execution given to Heliberto Chi today by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals means that there is a de facto moratorium on executions in Texas. There should be no more executions in Texas until after the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling in Baze vs Rees. The ruling could come as late as next June.

Urge Texas Governor Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to Support the Moratorium on Executions Pending the Decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Constitutionality of Lethal Injections

Thank you to the around 500 people who took action today by writing the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Governor and the Legislature after receiving an action alert from TMN asking them to write and urge a stay for Chi. The stay was issued by the Court of Criminal Appeals, but by writing the BPP, the Governor and the Legislature, you have helped us build support for moratorium. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 4-3 to reject a six-month stay for Chi, but the vote was close and your letters and emails helped make it close.

It is likely, that the U.S. Supreme Court would have issued a stay, if the Chi case had reached the Court. The CCA has given the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry — whose office prosecuted Chi — a month to "address the question of whether the current method of administering lethal injection in Texas constitutes cruel and unusual punishment such that the (TDCJ) would violate the Eighth Amendment," the order states.

The attorney general's office would respond on behalf of Nathaniel Quarterman, the director of TDCJ's Institutional Division, agency spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

We now have to let the Texas Attorney General, the Governor and the Legislature know that the people of Texas want them to continue the suspension of executions until after the U.S. Supreme Court has issued its ruling in the Baze case.

From the New York Times:

Signaling an indefinite halt to executions in Texas, the state’s highest criminal appeals court late Tuesday stayed the lethal injection of a 28-year-old Honduran man who was scheduled to be put to death Wednesday.

The reprieve by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was granted a week after the United States Supreme Court agreed to consider whether a form of lethal injection constituted cruel and unusual punishment barred under the Eighth Amendment. On Thursday, the Supreme Court stepped in to halt a planned execution in Texas at the last minute, and though many legal experts interpreted that as a signal for all states to wait for a final ruling on lethal injection before any further executions, Texas officials said they planned to move ahead with more.

As a result, Tuesday’s ruling by the Texas court was seen as a sign that judges in the nation’s leading death penalty state were taking guidance from the Supreme Court and putting off imminent executions.

The Texas court order gave state authorities up to 30 days to explain in legal papers why the execution of the inmate, Heliberto Chi, should proceed. With responses then certain from defense lawyers, the effect of the order was to put off the execution for months, lawyers said.

Mr. Chi was convicted of killing the manager of a men’s store in Arlington in 2001.

Other executions, including four more scheduled in the next five months, were also likely to be stayed, said David R. Dow of the Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit law clinic that worked on Mr. Chi’s appeal.

“Until the Court of Criminal Appeals addresses the questions raised in this case there will be no more executions in Texas,” predicted Mr. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston.

Acting less than a week after it rejected another inmate’s appeal 5 to 4, the appeals court justices provided no breakdown of the vote and did not give any reasoning for their decision. But they directed the state’s director of criminal justice, Nathaniel Quarterman, not to execute Mr. Chi and gave Mr. Quarterman and Tim Curry, the district attorney of Tarrant County, where the crime had been committed, up to 30 days to respond to claims by Mr. Chi’s lawyers that the formulation and administration of chemicals used for lethal injections did not quickly and painlessly kill but paralyzed the condemned inmates while they painfully suffocated.

Earlier Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 4 to 3 against recommending a stay for Mr. Chi. A request for a 30-day reprieve was also pending with Gov. Rick Perry.

Had the appeals court not halted the execution, Mr. Chi’s lawyers would have taken the case to the United States Supreme Court, which last Thursday stayed the execution for another Texas inmate, Carlton Turner Jr.

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