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With Just Hours To Go, Federal Court Halts Texas Execution

Update at 4:57 p.m. ET. Federal Court Halts Execution:

With just hours to go, a federal court has halted the execution of Texas inmate Robert Campbell.

The execution would have been the first since Oklahoma botched one in April.

The ruling has nothing to do with the drug shortage that's dominated the narrative over the death penalty in the country. Instead, Campbell's lawyers argued that the state knew that Campbell was intellectually disabled but did not let his defense team know that.

Because of that evidence, the court ruled that Campbell's lawyers could not fairly prepare a claim of ineligibility for the death penalty.

Robert C. Owen, Campbell's attorney, said in a statement:

"The Fifth Circuit's decision today creates an opportunity for Texas to rise above its past mistakes and seek a resolution of this matter that will better serve the interests of all parties and the public. Mr. Campbell has been fully evaluated by a highly qualified psychologist — a member of the Texas Board of Examiners of Psychologists, appointed to that post by Governor Rick Perry — who confirms he is a person with mental retardation. Therefore, according to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, he is ineligible for the death penalty. Given the state's own role in creating the regrettable circumstances that led to the Fifth Circuit's decision today, the time is right for the State of Texas to let go of its efforts to execute Mr. Campbell, and resolve this case by reducing his sentence to life imprisonment. State officials should choose the path of resolution rather than pursuing months or years of further proceedings."

Campbell will now be able to make a case that he is not eligible for the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled.

Our original post continues:

Texas is scheduled to put a man to death this afternoon, marking the first time the death penalty is exercised in the United States since Oklahoma botched the execution of Clayton Lockett.

Attorneys for Robert Campbell have argued his execution should be delayed, because Texas refuses to reveal the provenance of its execution drug.

Judge Keith P. Ellison of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed that request but said the Oklahoma case should be taken into account.

"The horrific narrative of Oklahoma's botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014 requires sober reflection on the manner in which this nation administers the ultimate punishment," Ellison wrote in his decision. "While the law currently does not permit injunctive relief, this Court urges the Fifth Circuit to reconsider its jurisprudence that seems to shield crucial elements of the execution process from open inquiry."

As we've reported, how the U.S. implements capital punishment has been in disarray for a while now, because drug companies have stopped selling to corrections departments. States have, therefore, run out of tried and tested drugs. Oklahoma was using a new cocktail of drugs when it executed Lockett.

It's worth noting that Texas has not changed its procedures. It is scheduled to put Campbell to death using a single, lethal dose of the barbiturate pentobarbital.

In a story published Monday, The New York Times explored Texas' killing efficiency. It performs 40 percent of the nation's executions. Since 1982, it has executed 515 men and women using the lethal injection with few mishaps.

The Times adds:

"Some of those who condemn the state grudgingly agree that it kills with efficiency — from initial slumber into cessation of breathing — even though a prisoner who died of lethal injection in April was reported to have said, 'It does kind of burn.'

" 'Texas's death chamber is a well-honed machine,' said Robert Perkinson, the author of 'Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire,' a critical history of the Texas prison system.

"David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented more than 100 death row inmates during their appeals, explained the state's record of seeming success simply. 'When you do something a lot, you get good at it,' he said, adding archly, 'I think Texas probably does it as well as Iran.' "

Campbell was convicted of raping, then shooting a woman in 1991. He is scheduled to be executed in Huntsville at 7 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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