Last Edited: Saturday, 27 Oct 2007, 5:07 PM CDT
Created: Saturday, 27 Oct 2007, 5:01 PM CDT
HOUSTON -- An attorney for the only man put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court announced plans to review the constitutionality of lethal injection said staff at the Texas Attorney General's Office pushed for the execution.
Michael Richard, 49, was executed Sept. 25 hours after justices decided take up a challenge from two condemned inmates in Kentucky over the same lethal injection procedures used by Texas. Richard's death also followed a refusal by Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, to keep the office open past 5 p.m. so his attorneys could file an appeal.
Richard's attorneys wanted his execution halted until the Kentucky issue was settled.
David Dow, one of Richard's attorneys, said a lawyer on his staff informed Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office about the failed attempt with the criminal appeals court about 6 p.m. But an assistant attorney general from Abbott's office told lawyers they had six minutes to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court for Richard.
"They were being quite aggressively confrontational," Dow said.
Attorney General's Office spokesman Jerry Strickland said aides acted appropriately. Assistant Attorney General Baxter Morgan contacted Dow's office at 6 p.m. because no appeals were pending. Dow told them one would be filed with the Supreme Court, Strickland said.
Richard's execution wasn't carried out until the appeal before the Supreme Court was rejected. His lethal injection also was delayed until the attorney general's office told the prison system no more appeals were pending, said Michelle Lyons, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman.
However, Dow said it remains unclear if the Supreme Court failed to halt Richard's execution because of the case's merits or because the Court of Criminal Appeals had not ruled on the motion first.
Former Gov. Mark White, who was once the state's attorney general, and former Attorney General Jim Mattox have criticized Abbott for not stopping the execution after Keller closed the clerk's office.
"That court of criminal appeals, that attorney general and that governor failed to halt one of the most egregious breaches of equity in the courts that I've ever known," White said.
Abbott responded this week by defending his role in the Richard execution.
"It's up to the courts to make that determination. I don't have the legal authority to stop an execution. Only the governor and only the courts have that authority and we have to rely upon the courts to exercise that authority," he said.
Gov. Rick Perry, who could have issued a 30-day reprieve, has said through a spokesman that such cases are for the courts to resolve but that he believes lethal injections are proper.