11th Circuit Stays Second Execution


For the second time in a week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, has stayed an impending execution.  Paul Augustus Howell was scheduled to die in Florida’s execution chamber on Tuesday.  He had been convicted of the 1992 pipe-bomb murder of a state trooper.  The appeals judges granted the stay just a day before the execution, to allow time for Howell’s attorneys to pursue a claim that he was improperly denied an opportunity for an earlier federal review.

Howell’s original post-conviction attorney missed a critical federal court deadline to file a claim for a habeus corpus review. In an immediate appeal of the circuit court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida’s Attorney General argued that this amounted to “garden-variety negligence” on the lawyer’s part, and was not a legally significant reason to stay the execution.  That application was presented to Justice Clarence Thomas, who oversees the 11th Circuit territory, and circulated it to the other Justices.  They declined to intervene.

Less than a week before the Howell ruling, the 11th Circuit stayed the execution of a Louisiana prisoner, Warren Lee Hill, within an hour of a scheduled lethal injection.  The Hill stay was granted to allow further examination of claims that Hill should be spared the death penalty because of mental retardation.


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