Pa. inmate awaits word on stalled execution

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) (AP)strong>

 State corrections officials said condemned inmate Hubert Lester Michael Jr. has been "quiet, polite and composed" in what could be his final hours.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton told reporters Thursday that Michael, who had been housed at Greene State Prison in southwestern Pennsylvania, arrived shortly after 6 a.m. at Rockview State Prison in Bellefonte, where executions are carried out.

She said Michael ate a breakfast of french toast, orange juice and coffee, but so far has declined to pick a last meal.

A federal appeals court has stayed the execution, originally set for 7 p.m. Thursday, and the state attorney general has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michael is sentenced to die by lethal injection for the 1993 shooting death of 16-year-old Trista Elizabeth Eng in York County.

 

Posted at 4:49 p.m. Thursday:

Pennsylvania prosecutors want the U.S. Supreme Court to order that an execution go forward as planned.

The Attorney General's Office filed a 19-page motion late Thursday that asks the nation's high court to overturn a stay that halted plans to put to death convicted murderer Hubert Michael.

Michael is on death row for the 1993 shooting death of 16-year-old Trista Eng in York County.

A lower federal appeals court stayed the execution Thursday, hours before it was scheduled to occur.

Michael's lawyers said they're confident that the Supreme Court won't intervene.

The death warrant remains valid until midnight.

 

Posted at 2:47 p.m. Thursday:

The prospect of execution for Hubert L. Michael Jr. was put on hold by a federal appeals court Thursday -- but the procedure is guided by a bureaucratic script for an inmate's final hours under the steely supervision of the state government.  

Condemned inmates spend the hours leading up to their execution in a holding cell in a converted field hospital on the grounds of Rockview State Prison in Bellefonte, Corrections Department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton said in describing the procedure.  

The inmate may have non-contact visits with members of his immediate family. He can order his last meal -- from a menu that includes hamburger, chicken, breaded fish and pizza and chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream -- but must eat it in his cell.  

He can write his final statement, dictate it to be typed by someone else or make no statement. He may meet with his attorney until 6 p.m., and with a spiritual adviser until 6:30.  

During the last hour, the inmate will be handcuffed and escorted to the execution chamber by six corrections officers -- one for each arm and leg, one for his feet and one for his head -- who will strap him face-up on the gurney to receive a lethal injection.  

Around the same time, on the other side of a window, witnesses including citizens, reporters and victims' representatives will be permitted into a seating area to view the execution.  

An open telephone connection would be maintained between the governor's office and the prison to expedite word of any last-minute action that would stop the execution. Gov. Tom Corbett planned to be in Harrisburg, either at his Capitol office or his office at the governor's residence, in case he needs to intervene, said his spokesman, Kevin Harley. Corbett has the power to issue a reprieve, but it is a temporary postponement and must be done in the context of a particular legal proceeding that result in a court-ordered halt to the execution plans.  

A mysterious "lethal injection team" will enter the chamber and insert an intravenous line into his outstretched arm. Officials refuse to identify or discuss the team members for reasons of safety and privacy, except to say they have the necessary training.  

Members will administer the first drug in the deadly intravenous mixture -- pentobarbital, a sedative. They will then confirm that the inmate is unconscious, administer pancuronium bromide -- a paralytic agent -- and finally the potassium chloride that will stop the heart.  

Once his brain activity stops, the coroner will confirm he is dead. The prison superintendent will announce that the inmate is dead, and the witnesses will escorted out.  

Unless the inmate makes other arrangements, his body will be cremated at state expense.  

Michael, 56, formerly of Lemoyne, near Harrisburg, was sentenced to death for the murder of a teenage girl in York County. He has been incarcerated at Greene State Prison in southwestern Pennsylvania in a single cell where he has been confined up to 22 hours a day and allowed only non-contact visits.


Posted at 11:50 a.m. Thursday:

A condemned murderer was running out of options Thursday in the hours before his scheduled execution, which would be the state's first in since 1999.

Lawyers for Hubert L. Michael Jr. pressed the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to reverse two federal judges in Harrisburg who refused to delay the execution.

Shawn Nolan of the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia said the lawyers wouldn't seek a second clemency hearing in the wake of the state Pardons Board's unanimous decision Wednesday to not recommend clemency.

If his lawyers are unsuccessful, Michael will be put to death by lethal injection in a converted field hospital at Rockview State Prison in Bellefonte for the shooting death of 16-year-old Trista Elizabeth Eng in south-central Pennsylvania in 1993.

The execution was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m., but the death warrant that Gov. Tom Corbett signed was good until midnight. Legal maneuvering to stop the procedure could delay the execution or force it to be postponed to a future date.

Michael would be the fourth person executed — and the only put to death without having given up on appeals — in 50 years in Pennsylvania.

Michael pleaded guilty to murdering Eng after kidnapping her in York County. At a 1997 hearing, his former public defender testified that Michael told him how he picked up the girl hitchhiking, bound her with electrical cord stolen from her home, raped her and killed her in state game lands.

He was not charged with rape, although prosecutors suspected it, because of a lack of physical evidence. Michael confessed to his brother, who located her remains about a month after she disappeared, and called police. She had been shot in the head and chest.

At Wednesday's pardons board hearing, the victim's mother, Suzanne Eng, set the tone for relatives and friends who made emotional pleas to keep the execution on track.

"He kidnapped her, he raped her and then he executed her," the mother said. "As she begged him not to kill her, he shot her three times."

The way Pennsylvania carries out its death penalty, from the training of the lethal-injection team members to the types of drugs used, is under scrutiny in a 5-year-old class-action suit pending in federal court in Harrisburg.

Also under a microscope is the Corrections Department's policy dictating how much of the execution procedure witnesses should be allowed to watch.

U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane ruled Wednesday that the department cannot use curtains or any other method to prevent witnesses from seeing and hearing all of what transpires in Michael's execution.

Kane sided with two newspapers in issuing a preliminary injunction requiring that witnesses be allowed "full visual and auditory observation" of what goes on.