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The death chamber in Huntsville, Texas, is the busiest in the country. Now, two Texas prosecutors say they will wait to ask for execution dates until the Supreme Court decides on lethal injection procedures.
A day after the Supreme Court halted a Mississippi execution, two prosecutors in the state with the nation's busiest death chamber said they will forego asking for execution dates in the short-term.
Roe Wilson, who handles death penalty appeals for the Harris County District Attorney's Office in the Houston area, and Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said they will not ask judges to set execution dates until the high court decides on lethal injection procedures in a Kentucky case.
Kentucky's method of lethal injection is similar to procedures in three dozen states. The court is due to consider whether the mix of three drugs used to sedate and kill prisoners has the potential to cause enough pain to violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Garza said he has already asked a judge to cancel a Jan. 24 execution. And Wilson said she plans to ask a judge to withdraw the Feb. 26 execution date for a man convicted of killing a woman and her 2-year-old son.
"Now, we'll let them rule and we can come back in and act accordingly," Garza said.
Mississippi Execution Halted
The Supreme Court has allowed only one execution to go forward since agreeing to hear the Kentucky case, which is likely to happen before the July recess. Michael Richard was executed in Texas on Sept. 25, the same day the court said it would hear a lethal injection challenge from two death row inmates in Kentucky.
State and lower federal courts have halted all other scheduled executions since then, putting the nation on a path toward the lowest annual number of executions in a decade.
On Tuesday, the high court halted another execution, this time in Mississippi. The reprieve for Earl Wesley Berry — minutes before he was scheduled to die — was the third granted by the justices since they agreed to hear the Kentucky case in late September.
In Texas, execution dates are set by trial judges, typically at the request of local prosecutors. In 2007, 26 of the nation's 42 executions have been in Texas. No other state has had more than three this year.
Texas has no plans for more executions in 2007 after federal and state judges stopped four death sentences from being carried out.
Delay Upsets Victims' Families
Tuesday's decision in the Mississippi case brought an emotional response from about members of the victim's family.
"Now, you want to tell me that we got a fair shake today," said Charles Bounds, whose 56-year-old wife, Mary, was kidnapped from a church and killed by Berry in 1987. "Please don't ever let that man out of prison, because you'll have me, then. ... I'll kill him."
Berry was convicted in 1988 after his confession was used against him during the trial.
Berry asked for a delay at least until the court issues its decision in the Kentucky case. He claimed the mixture of deadly chemicals Mississippi uses would cause unnecessary pain, constituting cruel and unusual punishment.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press