RICHMOND, Va. – The U.S. Supreme Court (search) granted a last-minute stay of execution Monday for a man convicted of fatally stabbing the manager of a pool hall with a pair of scissors.
Robin Lovitt (search), 41, had been scheduled for execution at 9 p.m. Monday.
The stay will remain in place until the full court resumes in October. The court will then either hear Lovitt's appeal or allow Virginia to execute him.
Lovitt's attorneys and opponents of capital punishment have argued that the conviction should be reviewed because of questions surrounding the evidence.
Initial DNA tests of the bloody scissors could not conclusively link Lovitt to the 1998 slaying of Clayton Dicks (search), 44, during a pool hall robbery in Arlington.
A court clerk later destroyed most of the evidence, including the scissors, making additional DNA testing impossible.
The Virginia attorney general's office has maintained that DNA evidence was not critical to the conviction because of "very compelling, strong evidence," including eyewitness testimony.
"He was found guilty by 12 jurors, two trial judges, seven state justices, one federal district judge and three federal appellate judges," said Emily Lucier, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office.
Lovitt's attorneys had sought a last-minute appeal from the high court and requested clemency from Gov. Mark R. Warner (search). Among those fighting the execution are former independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
Lovitt has steadfastly maintained his innocence and had remained hopeful about his ability to win a last-minute reprieve, his lawyers said.
The Supreme Court of Virginia in 2000 found no error by the trial court and affirmed Lovitt's conviction and death sentence. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Lovitt's appeal.
The scissors were among items discarded in 2001 to free up space in the Arlington County Circuit Court's evidence room. In 2003, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected Lovitt's claim that his due process rights were violated. The justices ruled a court employee did not act in bad faith when he ordered the evidence destroyed.
In May, more concerns were raised after an independent audit found the state crime lab erred in critical testing in the case of another death row inmate, who was pardoned.
The audit prompted the governor to call for a scientific review of more than 160 cases handled by the lab. The review team last month concluded the lab properly handled the DNA evidence in Lovitt's case.
Lovitt would have been the first inmate executed in Virginia in 2005.