WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens blocked Indiana from putting to death its oldest death row inmate Tuesday to give the 71-year-old prisoner, who is partially deaf and blind, extra time to file federal appeals.
Richard Moore is on death row for killing his wife, her father and an Indianapolis police officer in 1979.
It was the Supreme Court's first intervention in a capital case since outgoing Illinois Gov. George Ryan granted a blanket commutation this month to 167 death row inmates in that state.
The Indiana Supreme Court refused last week to block Moore's Jan. 29 execution because he had exhausted his state appeals. The state justices said Moore could ask federal courts to step in.
Stevens, in issuing the stay on his own, said he was giving Moore's Indiana lawyer time to file the appeal and the court time to consider reviewing it.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Stevens' stay, like Ryan's commutations, addresses concerns about the imposition of capital punishment.
"It's saying, `If we're going to have the death penalty at all, it has to be done right,"' he said. "For a number of the justices, this is a very important issue."
The Supreme Court has been sharply split in capital cases. Most recently, Stevens and three colleagues complained last fall that the court was not willing to consider banning executions of juvenile killers.
Indiana has few executions, and Moore is one of the state's longest-serving death row residents.
Moore, a former school custodian, has said he went on a shooting rampage after his wife asked for a divorce. He pleaded guilty to murder charges, but the pleas were later thrown out.
The Indiana Supreme Court reinstated the convictions, and a judge again sentenced him to death in 2000, prompting a new round of appeals.