BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to allow the execution of a Pennsylvania prisoner to go forward tonight after a lower court stayed the sentence this afternoon.
State officials had said they were prepared to execute Hubert L. Michael Jr., 56, if the high court agreed by 11:59 p.m. to a request by the Pennsylvania attorney general to lift the stay. Michael was sentenced to death for murdering 16-year-old Trista Eng in 1993 after kidnapping her in York County.
The Pennsylvania attorney general had asked the high court to vacate the stay of the execution. An order from the Supreme Court said the application was presented to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, referred to the court and denied.
Pennsylvania last executed a prisoner in 1999, and it has not executed someone contesting their sentence since 1962. The state came within days of carrying out an execution scheduled for Oct. 3 before a Philadelphia judge issued a stay.
Michael arrived at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, where the execution complex is located, at 6:09 a.m. from his home prison in Greene County. He appeared "somewhat emotional" during the trip but was quiet and composed after arriving, said Susan McNaughton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. Twelve minutes later, he was placed in a holding cell 20 feet from the execution chamber. He ate a breakfast of French toast, orange juice and coffee and visited with an attorney and his spiritual adviser. He passed time reading the Bible and a newspaper.
His attorneys were trying to stop the execution through two federal appeals, and in the early afternoon a panel of judges ordered the execution stopped and the case returned to a lower court for consideration of mental health claims. The Pennsylvania attorney general appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing Michael was not entitled to a stay.
Executions in Pennsylvania once were conducted at 10 p.m., but they are now planned for 7 p.m. to make it easier to reach the courts in last-minutes appeals, Ms. McNaughton said.
In the summer of 1993, Trista Eng was walking to her summer job at a restaurant in Dillsburg, York County, when Michael stopped and offered her a ride, according to an account by the governor's office. Instead, Michael drove her to state game lands in the county, where he shot her three times with a handgun and hid her body in the woods.
On Wednesday, the state Board of Pardons unanimously rejected a bid for clemency after attorneys for Michael argued he is impaired by Asperger's syndrome and is deeply remorseful for his actions. Friends and family of Trista spoke against the petition, describing the impact on their lives of losing a daughter, sister, niece and friend.
Gov. Tom Corbett was receiving updates on the appeals in his office in Harrisburg in case the execution were to go forward and another last-minute legal challenge required his intervention, said Kevin Harley, his spokesman.
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