WASHINGTON – A federal death row inmate scheduled to die days after Timothy McVeigh appealed Thursday for a Supreme Court reprieve.
Juan Raul Garza, a convicted drug dealer and killer from Texas, asked the justices to delay his scheduled June 19 execution and hear his appeal.
Garza could be the second person executed at the new federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Ind., if McVeigh is executed as scheduled on Monday. McVeigh's lawyers planned to appeal for a delay, and that request will likely end up before the Supreme Court as well.
Garza claims he was denied a fair opportunity to fight his death sentence earlier in his trial and appeals process. He also claims a pending Supreme Court case could affect his own case.
"Mr. Garza's petition presents a claim worthy of consideration on the merits that should not be rushed to resolution because of the fast-approaching execution date," his lawyers wrote.
Garza's request goes first to Justice Antonin Scalia, who has jurisdiction for matters from Texas, and then most likely to the full nine-member court for review.
It takes five votes to grant a delay, or "stay" of an execution. Although traditionally leery of last-minute appeals, the court has recently agreed to two such requests, and will hear arguments on those cases in the fall.
Garza has also asked President Bush to commute Garza's sentence to life in prison without a chance for parole. Bush supports the death penalty.
Garza has had a complicated path through the federal death row system, and his case has often been overshadowed by McVeigh, the convicted Oklahoma City bomber.
Garza was scheduled to die first, but then-President Clinton postponed his execution last year pending a review of a Justice Department study showing racial and geographical disparities in the federal death penalty system.
Clinton, also a death penalty supporter, said the government should look at whether racism plays a role in the federal death penalty system before carrying out Garza's execution. No reviews have yet been released.
Lawyers for Garza, who is Hispanic, say their client should be granted clemency because it's still an open question as to whether the sentence was the result of bias against minorities in federal death penalty prosecutions.
Garza, 44, was convicted in 1993 of running a marijuana smuggling operation, killing one man and ordering the slayings of two others he thought were informants.