Washington: A Texas appeals court halted at the 11th hour the execution of a murderer who was to have been the first US inmate put to death since a botched lethal injection ignited a national debate.
Robert James Campbell was to be executed yesterday, but just a few hours before that the appeals judges ruled that further consideration was required on whether he is intellectually disabled.
Campbell was convicted for the 1991 murder of Alexandra Rendon, shortly after he turned 18. Court documents say he and a friend grabbed Rendon from a gas station and drove her to a remote area where Campbell eventually shot her in the back.
His execution had been set to be the first following that of Clayton Lockett, a convicted killer and rapist who died in neighbouring Oklahoma on April 29 some 43 minutes after the start of a lethal injection process that should have taken little more than 10 minutes.
Lockett's vein collapsed during his lethal injection, forcing prison officials to halt the procedure midway. He appeared to be in significant pain throughout the procedure and eventually died of a heart attack.
Some death-penalty opponents asserted that it was a direct result of an untested cocktail of lethal drugs that had been used by Oklahoma penal officials to kill him. Campbell, who had also been due to die by lethal injection, had sought a stay on the grounds that he may be subjected to an execution as painful as the one suffered by Lockett.
An appeal lodged by his attorneys on those grounds on Monday was denied, but the Texas court granted a stay because of his mental health. A 2002 Supreme Court ruling barred the execution of the mentally disabled, ruling it violated the constitutional amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.
But it is up to each state to determine what constitutes mentally ill. "The record evidence contains the results from four intelligence tests administered during multiple periods of Campbell's life, including his childhood, each indicating significantly subaverage intellectual functioning," the judges wrote in their ruling.