Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Tonight’s scheduled execution of a convicted murderer has been halted by a federal appeals court, but the state has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and overturn the court’s decision, and allow the execution to go forward.
A federal judge has sent the case of Hubert Lester Michael Jr. back to district court for more review. Defense lawyers said in a statement that they’re pleased, because their client’s longstanding mental issues had not been fully considered in court.
“It’s a question of whether the courts are going to look at the merits of this man’s serious mental illness or not look at the merits,” said Mark Bookman, executive director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that consults with defense lawyers whose clients are on death row.
He said other factors caused Michael to plead guilty and not challenge his sentence, including the inmate’s solitary confinement, as well as “the really awful relationship he had with his original lawyer, which he complained about regularly on the record,” said Bookman. “All of those combined to make him essentially give up his appeals. He’s never had any kind of a reasonable review of the issues in his case.”
Michael was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1993 shooting death of teenager Trista Eng of York County. The execution was scheduled for Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
Late Thursday afternoon, the state Attorney General filed an appeal of the federal appeals court’s stay of execution to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s high court could rule to put the execution back on track. The death warrant signed for Michael is valid until midnight Thursday.
But Bookman said Michael’s defense lawyers are “cautiously optimistic” the stay will remain, because the federal appeals court has remanded the case for further review to the district court.
“It is reasonable that the United States Supreme Court will say, ‘That’s OK with us.’”
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