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Georgia killer's clemency plea falls short

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: William Earl Lynd's execution set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday
  • Lynd's would be first execution since Supreme Court upheld lethal injection
  • His lawyers are mounting a last-minute flurry of appeals
  • About a dozen other states are planning executions
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By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Georgia's Parole and Pardon Board has denied a condemned inmate's request for clemency, paving the way for William Earl Lynd to die by injection at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

William Earl Lynd faces execution on Tuesday by the state of Georgia.

Lynd, convicted of a 1988 murder, had hoped to avoid the dubious distinction of becoming the first person executed in the United States in more than seven months.

Georgia is poised to resume capital punishment after the Supreme Court in April voted to uphold Kentucky's lethal injection protocols. Executions had been on hold across the country since the high court agreed to hear a challenge to the injection method last September.

Lynd still has legal appeals pending, including one with the Georgia Supreme Court.

About a dozen states have announced they would resume capital punishment in the next several months.

"There will surely be future legal challenges brought by the method of execution," said Solicitor General Ted Cruz of Texas, where the most executions by far have taken place in the past 32 years. But he said the high court's recent decision "makes clear that the method of execution that virtually every state uses is consistent with the U.S. Constitution."

Texas officials announced Monday they plan to execute Mexican-born Jose Medellin in August for the gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston 15 years ago.

His case reached the Supreme Court, which said the state could proceed. The case involved an unusual dispute among the international community, President Bush and Texas, centered on whether the prisoner deserved a new hearing because he was not told about his right to contact his consulate upon his arrest. The justices ultimately decided state officials could not be forced to give Medellin a new hearing.

About 43 other Mexican-born inmates in U.S. prisons have made similar constitutional claims.

In Mississippi, the state's supreme court on Monday scheduled the execution of Earl Wesley Berry for May 21. The attorney general had hoped to hold an execution Monday evening.

Berry, 49, was convicted in the 1987 kidnapping and fatal beating of a Houston, Mississippi, woman.

Lynd, the Georgia inmate, was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend, Virginia "Ginger" Moore, in Berrien County two decades ago. Prosecutors told jurors that Lynd shot her twice in the head, then later shot her a third time, this time fatally, after he heard her continuing to move in the trunk of the car where he had put her.

In addition to the request for a commutation of his sentence or a delay in the 7 p.m. Tuesday execution, Lynd's lawyers have already begun a round of last-minute appeals.

Death penalty opponents plan vigils across Georgia on Tuesday, including outside the death row at the prison in Jackson, just south of Atlanta.

"It's a shame and it's very sad Georgia is leading the way in the new resumption of executions in the United States," said Laura Moye, chairwoman of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "They're trying to send a message they're tough on crime, but they're acting irresponsibly."

Berry and Lynd are white, but Moye said that far too often, race and other factors unfairly play a part in who is prosecuted for capital crimes.

"Factors like race, class, and the county where the crime occurred have much more to do with who goes to death row than the actual heinousness of the crime."

Human rights groups also raise the possibility an innocent person could be put to death. They point to Friday's release in North Carolina of Levan "Bo" Jones, an African-American inmate who spent 14 years on death row before a judge said the evidence was faulty and overturned his murder conviction. The charges have been dropped.

Local prosecutors see things differently. "There's been no evidence in this state -- and I'm not aware of any in the country -- that any demonstrably innocent person has been put to death," said Tommy Floyd, chairman of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. "As well as the human system we have devised, the death penalty is carried out fairly and appropriately" in his state, he said.

As district attorney in Henry County, just south of Atlanta, his office has prosecuted 10 capital defendants over the years. "No prosecutor I know wants to execute an innocent person," he said.

But critics point out that it is virtually impossible to get a legal ruling on a person's guilt or innocence after he has been put to death, for reasons including that no one else has legal standing to bring such a case, and that it would waste valuable court time to review the cases of people who are beyond help.

In Virginia, a May 27 execution date has been set for death row inmate Kevin Green, and the state is proceeding on schedule, said David Clementson of the Virginia attorney general's office.

Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois and Oklahoma have indicated they will resume capital punishment as soon as possible. Officials in Texas have four executions scheduled in June and July. Antionette Frank from Louisiana would be the first woman put to death in three years if her July death warrant is carried out.

Even South Dakota, which has sent only one inmate to death in three decades, has scheduled lethal injection for Briley Piper in October.

All but one of the 36 states with capital punishment use a three-drug mixture: an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer, and a heart-stopping substance. Berry's lawyer and death penalty opponents had argued if an inmate is not given enough anesthetic, he could be conscious enough to suffer excruciating pain without being able to express that fact because of the paralyzer.

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Nebraska is the only state that does not use lethal injection, but its use of the electric chair was ruled unconstitutional in February.

The last execution in the United States was September 25, of Michael Wayne Richard in Texas. The execution took place hours after the high court agreed to decide on the constitutionality of lethal injection. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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