|April 29, 2007|
Appeals panel denies Jones' stay of execution
By Garry Mitchell
The Associated Press
MOBILE -- A three-judge federal panel Friday denied a stay of execution for Alabama death row inmate Aaron Jones, who is scheduled to die May 3 by lethal injection for two killings more than 28 years ago.
His attorneys had asked the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to block the execution until a lower court hears another prisoner's challenge to lethal injection.
But the 11th Circuit panel refused: "The state and the surviving victims have waited long enough for some closure to these heinous crimes. We will not interfere with the state's strong interest in enforcing its judgment in this case."
An attorney for Jones said an appeal would be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jones, 54, one of the longest-serving death row inmates in Alabama, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. (CDT) Thursday at Holman Prison for the gruesome slayings of a Blount County couple and attacks on other family members during a home robbery in 1978.
The 11th Circuit panel agreed with the state's attorneys' argument that Jones had waited too long to challenge the constitutionality of lethal injection, saying Jones could have done that years ago when the state adopted that type of execution.
By waiting until November 2006 to challenge the state's lethal injection procedure, Jones' purpose was to delay the execution, not fight the method, the court concluded.
Opposing any execution delay, state prosecutors said that while Jones and another death row inmate have separate appeals with identical lethal injection claims, each case must be settled on its own merits and Jones should be executed.
The appeals panel agreed, saying the "mere possibility of a trial date in another case does not affect the balancing of the equities in this case."
Jones, who lived in Birmingham, has filed many appeals over the last 27 years, the latest challenging lethal injection as a method of execution. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death -- first in 1979 and then in a retrial in 1982.
Jones' pro-bono attorney, Heather K. McDevitt of the New York, had argued in a brief before the 11th Circuit that Jones should be granted a stay of execution until a Montgomery federal judge hears a challenge to lethal injection from another death row inmate, Darrell Grayson, who has a July 26 execution date.
Attorneys from the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, representing Grayson, are expected to request a stay of execution on Monday.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King, in a brief filed Friday in the 11th Circuit, said there's no guarantee Grayson will be given a trial on the constitutionality of lethal injection.
U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins has indicated a June 26 trial is a possibility and gave attorneys a timetable to submit briefs. The constitutionality of Alabama's method of execution by lethal injection has never been decided by the courts.
A half-dozen inmates have filed lethal injection challenges in the Montgomery federal court. State's attorneys say each claim is "virtually identical," and they expect more will be filed as the clock ticks down toward an execution date.
Jones' attorney told the 11th Circuit that a stay of execution in his case should be granted until there's a ruling on Grayson's challenge to Alabama's execution procedures.
McDevitt said the state "can point to no legitimate interest in rushing" to execute Jones next week as opposed to two months from now when the matter is decided in the same court in which Jones' challenge was pending.
"To proceed otherwise is unjust and tends to create an appearance that the system is arbitrary and capricious in matters of such grave importance," McDevitt argues.
She said at least eight states have recently suspended execution by lethal injection over concerns about the execution process, saying it has come "under heavy scrutiny in the past year and is a matter of serious, national concern."
In a response, the attorney general's brief says death row inmates "will certainly argue any doctrine available to prevent re-litigation of the same issues, but every death row inmate will inevitably claim that his case is somehow 'different' and that he is entitled to a trial."
However, the state argues, the 11th Circuit has denied stays of execution when inmates could have brought claims in time to permit full consideration without any need to stay their executions.
In Jones' case, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in Montgomery earlier denied a bid to block the execution. Thompson said Jones' challenge "is dilatory."
Jones and cohort Arthur Lee Giles, also on death row, shot and stabbed three children, their parents and their grandmother in rural Blount County, a farming area northeast of Birmingham. The parents, Willene and Carl Nelson, died as a result of injuries in the Nov. 10, 1978 attack.
Jones, and Giles, 47, are among the longest-serving inmates on Alabama's death row. Only two out of the 199 inmates on death row have been there longer, according to Department of Corrections records.