HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A man condemned for killing his parents avoided the nation's busiest death chamber Thursday night when he won a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court, which had already agreed to review another state's lethal injection procedures.
Attorneys for Carlton Turner Jr., 28, had appealed to the high court hoping that its planned review of lethal injection procedures in Kentucky, the same process used in Texas, could keep him alive.
Turner was 19 when authorities said he shot Carlton Turner Sr., 43, and Tonya Turner, 40, several times in the head. He then bought new clothes and jewelry and continued living in the family's Irving home.
His case is being watched as an indicator of whether executions in Texas could be halted until the court rules on the Kentucky case next year.
In a brief order, the court said it had granted his stay of execution but made no mention of its reasons for stopping the punishment. The order came less than two hours before the death warrant would have expired at midnight CDT.
"All I can say is all glory to God," Turner told prison officials as he was being returned to death row, in another prison about 45 miles east of Huntsville.
The order followed a decision earlier in the day by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to stay the execution of a contract killer hours before it was to have been carried out, so the inmate could be put to death using a new lethal injection formula the governor had ordered just a day before.
Turner would have been the 27th Texas inmate to be executed this year and the second this week.
After state courts earlier Thursday refused to halt the punishment, Turner's lawyers went to the Supreme Court, which on Tuesday agreed to review an appeal from two condemned inmates in Kentucky who argued that the three-drug process used in lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel. The same procedure is used in Texas.
"The inmate will be forced into a chemical straitjacket, unable to express the fact of his suffocation," the appeal in Turner's case asserted.
Turner's lawyers went early Thursday to his trial court judge with a request to withdraw the execution order. When that failed, they went to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which voted 5-4 to refuse to stop the punishment. The case then went to the Supreme Court.
From death row last week, Turner told The Associated Press he didn't find the prospect of death frightening but was concerned about possible pain from the lethal injection.
"The only thing I worry about is when the process is starting, the suffocation and pain if the anesthesia doesn't work," he said.
In Alabama, Riley said he issued the 45-day stay of Tommy Arthur's execution only to allow time for the new lethal-injection procedures to be put in place. The changes are designed to make sure the inmate is unconscious when given drugs to stop the heart and lungs.
Riley said evidence is "overwhelming" that Arthur is guilty "and he will be executed for his crime." The governor encouraged the attorney general's office to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to set another execution date "as soon as possible."
Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said the request would be filed with the court Friday.
Before Riley issued his stay, state officials had said they intended to execute Arthur at 6 p.m. Thursday, even though the changes Riley ordered could not be implemented by then.
They said the procedures already in place were constitutional, though Arthur's attorney, Suhana Han, contended that Riley's order to change the protocol amounted to the state conceding that its execution procedure was deficient. Han did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.
Arthur, 65, was sentenced to death for the Feb. 1, 1982, killing of Troy Wicker, 35, of Muscle Shoals. The victim's wife, Judy Wicker, testified she had sex with Arthur and paid him $10,000 to kill her husband, who was shot in the face as he lay in bed.
Arthur was visiting with his daughter when he learned of the stay in a call from his attorney, prison system spokesman Brian Corbett said.
Like Turner, Arthur had asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay pending its ruling on the Kentucky case. The Alabama Supreme Court had declined to grant a stay Wednesday.
The wife of Arthur's victim was given a life sentence for her part in the murder and paroled after 10 years behind bars.
In a statement, Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, urged Riley to use the next 45 days to allow DNA testing on evidence from Arthur's trial.
"Gov. Riley said last week that DNA testing was only a tactic to delay this execution. It's not. Now that the execution is delayed for other reasons, DNA testing should be started immediately," Neufeld said.
Another lethal-injection lawsuit, filed by a convicted ax murderer on death row on Delaware's death row, had been scheduled for trial Oct. 9. A federal judge postponed the trial Wednesday, citing the pending Supreme Court case.