Two years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court unexpectedly accepted a case, Baze v. Rees, challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection — the supposedly humane execution method that seemed less and less so.
Texas inmate Michael Richard, condemned for raping and murdering Marguerite Dixon in 1986, was slated to die that very evening, also by lethal injection.
As Richard’s Texas Defender Service lawyers scrambled to prepare a last-minute legal challenge based on the pending Supreme Court case — for how could Texas carry out a procedure whose constitutionality was in question? — they tripped over an unexpected stretch of red tape that ultimately claimed their client’s life:
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals closed at 5 p.m. on the day of the scheduled 6 p.m. execution, and refused to accept an appeal filed a few minutes after 5.
This bizarre situation, complicated by the fact that the Lone Star State did not have written rules for handling last-minute appeals (it does now), has a thicket of procedural detail best appreciated by lawyers.
Keller, who has what you might say is an inordinate regard for “finality” (and for prosecutors), has herself been forced to defend her conduct in hearings of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Those hearings could result in her removal from the bench over this incident; a decision is expected soon. (Update: She skated.)
Though it was not completely clear for a few more weeks, it was in fact true that the pending Baze decision suspended the death penalty in the United States. As a result, Michael Richard — whose execution would have been stayed had the appeal entered the judicial system — was the last American put to death until May of 2008.