COVID-19, the Coronavirus, has caused havoc and brought normal life to a standstill across the United States. It also led to the halt of the latest execution scheduled in Texas.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in the state, halted an execution slated for this week because of the coronavirus.
The justices ruled that the March 17 date set for the death penalty on 44-year-old John Hummel, should be delayed “in light of the current health crisis and the enormous resources needed to address that emergency.”
The stay of execution is in place for 60 days. After that period, Tarrant County can set a new execution date, the Texas Tribune reported.
Hummel’s attorney requested a stay of execution in what the Tribune described as a “unique court filing” last week due to the spread of COVID-19 and Texas’ disaster declaration. He argued that the disease affected his ability to carry out last-minute investigations.
In a secondary claim, he said the execution procedure, in which family members, the media, and corrections staff gather in small viewing rooms, places vulnerable prisons at risk of exposure.
A Tarrant County jury gave Hummel a death sentence in 2011 following the murders two years earlier of his pregnant wife, his father-in-law, and his 5-year-old daughter. Police discovered their beaten and burned bodies when first responders arrived for a fire at their home in the early morning, court records stated. Officials found they died from blunt-force injuries in or close to their beds before the fire was set.
Tarrant County officials opposed the stay of execution request. They labeled it speculative and said it should not stop Hummel’s execution for the “heinous, brutal, and calculated murders of his family members,” the Tribune reported.
However, Hummel’s lawyer argued emergencies have previously delayed executions in Texas, the state that uses the death penalty more than any other.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry granted a 30-day reprieve over an execution set for on Sept. 11, 2001. A court in Bexar County withdrew an execution set for shortly after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 because the defense counsel lived in Harris County.
The Coronavirus could affect seven other executions scheduled in Texas through June. One more is scheduled for March and two for April, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s website.
Some of the attorneys for the death row inmates plan to request motions to stop the executions due to the Coronavirus.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and federal courts have upheld stays of executions against a handful of death row inmates in recent years.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a temporary reprieve to Patrick Murphy because his spiritual adviser was not present at his scheduled execution.
Murphy was among a group of inmates who escaped from a Texas prison in 2000. He committed robberies in which a police officer was shot dead. He became a Buddhist on Death Row and requested the presence of his spiritual adviser just before the execution.
He argued the state’s refusal to have a non-Christian adviser at his execution violated his rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit gave Murphy a second stay of execution last November. Although no clergy are allowed to be present in the execution chamber, chaplains employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have access to inmates up until the time they enter the chamber.
Texas routinely executes more inmates than any other state. if you have been accused of capital murder call our Dallas-based defense team at (214) 720-9552.