Nevada court blocks execution with 90 minutes to go
Associated Press Writer
CARSON CITY, Nev. ” The Nevada Supreme Court ordered a halt to Monday’s planned execution of condemned inmate William Castillo ” just 90 minutes before he was to get a lethal injection for beating an elderly woman to death with a tire iron.
The high court ordered a last-minute stay following a hearing on a petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada to stop any executions pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court review of lethal injection methods.
Castillo, 34, imprisoned since 1996, had declined to file appeals of his own.
“It’s stayed,” said Nevada Corrections Director Howard Skolnik, moments after getting a call from the Supreme Court. The 1 1/2-page order from the court “tells me to stop. My job is to do what the court tells me to do,” Skolnik added.
The court’s 7 p.m. ruling came more than two hours after Castillo was served his final meal of a double cheeseburger, three root beers and a half gallon of pralines-and-almond ice cream. The inmate had been slightly sedated as prison staffers prepared to take him to the 9-by-12-foot death chamber.
Skolnik said Castillo was disappointed when he told him about the stay, and asked for an additional sedative to calm himself.
“He asked if it would be possible to get a little more medication to calm him down and take the edge off,” the director said. “He claimed that he was OK. He said he was very disappointed.”
Two members of the family of the murder victim, retired teacher Isabelle Berndt, 86, of Las Vegas, had planned to witness the execution, and Skolnik said, “They were hoping for some kind of closure today which they did not get.”
He added that the family members said they’d write to the state Supreme Court and the ACLU “enclosing expenses for their travel today which they need not have made.” There was no direct comment to the media from the family.
Nevada prison officials planned to execute Castillo with double doses of three drugs ” amounts so strong that the first injection likely would have caused him to immediately become unconscious.
Reno’s Spanish-English Ahora newspaper signed onto the ACLU’s petition to the state Supreme Court, contending that the “chemical veil” produced by one of the lethal chemicals to be injected into Castillo is so powerful that it prevents anyone from witnessing actual effects of the injection.
Lee Rowland, one of the ACLU lawyers who argued the case Monday before the Supreme Court, welcomed the decision, which was signed by all seven justices.
“Clearly, this was the right thing to do, legally and morally,” she said. “We are heartened that this decision will bring Nevada in line with the rest of the country, which has decided to await guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The brief stay order from the court didn’t elaborate on reasons for the stay, other than to say that “further briefing and consideration is warranted.”
A 60-day time period for briefing by lawyers will be followed by more oral arguments. No date for those arguments has been set yet.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Sept. 25 to take a hard look at the method of lethal injection most states use.
The high court will hear a challenge early next year from two inmates in Kentucky who claim that lethal injection as practiced by that state amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Executions in at least 10 states have been halted as a result of the litigation over lethal injections.
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