Texas execution stayed in world-renowned case
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (CNN) -- The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Wednesday's execution of Napoleon Beazley just hours before he was scheduled to die for murdering the father of a federal judge.
Beazley's case has drawn international attention because of his age at the time of the killing -- 17 -- and because his victim, John Luttig, was a prominent businessman and the father of J. Michael Luttig, who later became a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
Beazley's mother, Rena Beazley, was getting ready for the drive to the prison from her home in Grapeland, Texas, when she got the phone call. She collapsed on the floor, and a group of family and friends at the house began singing and praising God.
"I'm very grateful. He deserves life," she said. "It's just a big relief and a blessing that my son will live."
The order came just four hours before Beazley, 25, was to have been given the lethal injection at 6 p.m. in the death chamber of the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville.
The stay remains in effect "pending further orders by this court," the order said. No hearing was scheduled.
Beazley's lawyer Walter Long said he was "greatly relieved" and encouraged by the stay.
"Not only am I so grateful that Napoleon is still alive, I'm grateful for his family, the community of Grapeland and that our very profound legal issues are still alive," Long said.
Asked whether Beazley was prepared to die Wednesday evening, Long said, "I think that dying is something that Napoleon has thought about from the very moment the sentence was pronounced in his case."
Beazley's mother said her son was "good people" and "very sorry for putting us through this and putting the Luttigs through this. We know he's sorry for everything that's happened."
Luttig was shot down in his driveway of his home in Tyler, Texas, during an attempted carjacking in 1994.
Beazley, president of his senior class, was identified as the triggermen and later admitted he was a crack dealer. Two accomplices who were sentenced to life in prison later recanted their testimony that Beazley had boasted of wanting to kill somebody.
Testimony at Beazley's 1995 trial showed he stood in a pool of blood as he went through Luttig's pockets searching for the car keys. He abandoned the car a short distance away after hitting a wall. Beazley also fired at the Luttig's wife. He missed and she played dead as her husband lay beside her.
The appeals court did not give a reason for its stay, but Long listed 10 challenges to his client's conviction and sentence.
Long contended that Beazley did not receive adequate representation during his trial, that he was denied due process and a fair trial, and that he was denied his right to a fair and impartial jury.
Long further argued that Beazley's death sentence violated the international covenant on civil and political rights because he was under 18 at the time of the offense.
The federal government and 15 states allow the execution of murderers 18 years old. Another five allow execution for 17-year-olds, and 18 states allow the execution of 16-year-olds.
Beazley's father, Ireland, the first black man to ever serve on the city council in Grapeland, and his best friend Ryan Byrd were at a funeral home to sign the legal papers necessary to recover his body after the execution and make funeral arrangements.
"For now we're happy that we have time to focus on the next step because when his life is gone it's gone," Rena Beazley said.
"But now we have other options and the game's not over. We're blessed and grateful that he's still alive. His mission is not fulfilled. Everyone who knows Napoleon knows he's just an awesome person," she said.
A prison chaplain informed Beazley of the stay as he was composing his final statement. He showed little emotion, said state Criminal Justice Department spokesman Larry Todd, who described Beazley as "a man of few words -- he doesn't have much to say."
Beazley was in a room next to the execution chamber when he got the news and was moved back to a normal cell on death row.
Texas officials earlier decided against recommending a reprieve or commutation. The state appeals court, in a 6-3 decision, agreed to the request for a stay after "due consideration" of Beazley's petition. The same court had earlier upheld his conviction on appeal.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a stay. It still has not indicated whether it might consider his application for appeal, but the rejection of his stay was seen as an indication it is not likely to do so.
Three Supreme Court 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.
Death penalty opponents from around the world have sent letters and cards protesting the execution. The European Union urged Texas Gov. Rick Perry to stop the execution.
Amnesty International, citing the Beazley case, criticized the United States and Texas in particular for allowing executions in such cases.
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