Lecturer Halts Execution in Texas

Article excerpt

Byline: John Revill Crime Reporter

A rare legal victory by a Birmingham law lecturer saved the life of a murderer condemned to death in the United States by presidential candidate George W Bush.

Julian Killingley, who teaches at the University of Central England, helped stall the execution of Johnny Paul Penry just three hours before he was due to be killed by lethal injection.

Penry (44) was destined to become the 39th Death Row inmate to be executed this year by personal order of Texas state governor Mr Bush until the Supreme Court accepted Mr Killingley's challenge.

Mr Killingley, an American law specialist at the UCE, won the right to appeal by using the US Constitution to argue Penry did not get a fair trial and a death sentence would be cruel and unusual punishment.

The Supreme Court, the USA's highest legal authority, receives 8,000 applications each year and considers only about 100.

Mr Killingley is working with a team of American lawyers to have Penry's death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

He said the court's decision to stay the execution represented a victory but there was still a long way to go before the threat of execution was finally lifted.

'Three hours before Penry was due to be executed, the US Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution,' he said.

'This was a good sign and this week it announced it would hear his appeal. Although the case has not yet been won, this is a major achievement in itself.

'Although there is little doubt he did the deed, Penry had the physical urges of an adult man but the self-control and judgment of a seven-year-old child.'

Penry has been on Death Row in Texas for 20 years after being convicted of the 1979 rape and murder of 22-year-old Pamela Carpenter.

Before she died, Ms Carpenter managed to phone for help and described her killer to police and Penry later confessed to the murder.

Tests showed Penry has an IQ of between 53 and 60 - a level of 70 is considered to be the threshold of mental retardation, according to the American Association for Mental Retardation.

He cannot read or write, or maintain attention even on the comic books that he likes to leaf through, and still believes in Santa Claus. …