Supreme Court denies stay of execution
By Terry Frieden
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Monday denied a stay of execution for Texas death row inmate Napoleon Beazley who, at age 17, shot to death the father of a federal judge.
Three Justices who had personal relationships with the victim's son -- U.S. District Judge Michael Luttig -- recused themselves. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and David Souter took no part in the deliberations.
The brief order released by the high court said three of the justices, John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, would have granted the stay. That clearly means Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist opposed it. Such a split constitutes a denial.
In Austin, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 13-3 against recommending a reprieve for Beazley and 10-6 against commuting his sentence. The board takes up all death penalty cases in the state.
The votes were done by fax. The board did not meet in person to consider the Beazley case.
The Supreme Court has not yet acted on a petition by Beazley -- now 24 -- to hear an appeal in the case on the basis of his "future dangerousness." Human rights groups and others opposed to the death penalty have rallied to stop the execution because of the killer's age at the time.
Beazley, whose father Ireland Beazley was the first black member of the city council in Grapeland, Texas, had no prior criminal record and at the time of the killing was president of his senior class -- as his father had been before him.
The execution by lethal injection is set for 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) Wednesday at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. Having rejected the stay, it's possible the high court won't even rule on the petition for an appeal. Four justices would have to approve the request.
The victim, John Luttig, was shot down in his driveway of his home in Tyler, Texas, during an attempted carjacking in 1994. It was not until later that his son became a federal judge.
Beazley was identified as the triggermen. Two henchmen sentenced to life in prison later recanted their testimony that Beazley had boasted of wanting to kill somebody.
Cindy Garner, district attorney in Houston County, which includes Beazley's hometown, had written letters to the governor and pardons officials asking that his sentence be commuted. She also testified in Beazley's behalf in the punishment phase of his trial.
"I'm devastated. There's a good possibility this is going to proceed," she said Monday.
"His family will be devastated. His mother really thought he would get at least 30 more days for some consideration."
Garner added, "Frankly, I thought the Supreme Court would have looked at the case more in depth. My main issue is the issue of future dangerousness. I was not convinced with the proof offered at the trial. Obviously, the Supreme Court was. There's no arguing that."
Justice Scalia, author of the 1998 Supreme Court ruling upholding the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds, recused himself because Judge Luttig had once been his law clerk.
Beazley's attorney, Walter Long of Austin, wrote a letter to the Supreme Court last week urging Thomas, who tends to side with Scalia, to step aside because of Luttig's efforts on Thomas' behalf during the partisan battle over his Supreme Court nomination.
As assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Lutting also had played an active role in winning confirmation for Souter. Both justices were nominated during the administration of President Bush's father.
"Justice Thomas and Judge Luttig have a close personal friendship, so close, in fact, that Judge Luttig risked ethical violation by representing Mr. Justice Thomas during the Senate hearings after he had been appointed to the federal bench," Long's letter said.
Supreme Court observers had predicted that recusals by both Thomas and Scalia, considered among the most conservative justices, might improve Beazley's chances for a stay. That turned out not to be the case.
Fifteen states that carry out capital punishment prohibit executions of anyone under age 18.
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