Attorneys ask US Supreme Court to halt Missouri execution

ST. LOUIS (AP) – A federal appeals court ruled that the lethal injection of a Missouri death row inmate could go forward, finding that the man was given his legal due process to argue about his mental health. Defense attorneys immediately filed a petition and motion for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of Missouri officials in the case of Andre Cole, who was convicted in the 1998 stabbing death of a man over child support payments in St. Louis County. Barring a reversal from the high court, the state planned to execute Cole, 52, on Tuesday evening.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry had put the execution on hold, saying Cole should not be put to death because of mental illness.

“He hears voices over the TV, over the prison intercom, everywhere,” Cole’s attorney Joseph Luby told The Associated Press. He said Cole believes that Gov. Jay Nixon, prosecutors and others “are giving him messages about his case.”

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office quickly appealed Perry’s ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing there was no legal reason for the judge to overturn a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that allowed the execution to proceed.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the appeals court overturned Perry’s ruling, saying Cole and his lawyers had been given ample opportunity to argue that he was not mentally fit to be executed, but failed to convince the state Supreme Court.

Luby said defense attorneys immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cole’s attorneys earlier had asked the high court to stop the execution based in part on concerns over Missouri’s execution drug, which was purchased from a compounding pharmacy that the state refuses to identify.

Several outside groups, including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, are pushing Nixon to stop the execution and appoint a board to examine concerns that there is racial bias in Missouri’s jury selection process. Cole, who is black, was convicted and sentenced by an all-white jury.

“The criminal justice system in this country is unfair,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU in St. Louis. “It targets persons of color. It treats the African-American community differently.”

Nixon’s spokesman said the clemency petition was under review.

Cole’s brother said the crime was out of character, a sudden act of passion that doesn’t merit the death penalty.

“It was a one-time thing,” said DeAngelo Cole, 38, of Las Vegas. “He didn’t have a history of that kind of behavior.”

Cole and his wife, Terri, divorced in 1995. The couple had two children and fought about visitation. Evidence showed that Andre Cole was upset that the government had ordered $3,000 in unpaid child support to be taken from his wages over the course of several paychecks.

The first deduction appeared on his paycheck dated Aug. 21, 1998. Hours later, Cole forced his way into his ex-wife’s home and was confronted by Anthony Curtis, who was visiting. Andre Cole stabbed Curtis and Terri Cole repeatedly. Curtis died, while Terri Cole survived.

Andre Cole fled the state but surrendered 33 days later. He claimed at trial that he did not bring a weapon into Terri Cole’s house and that Curtis initiated the attack with a knife.

St. Louis County prosecutors removed three black potential jurors from the pool of candidates, according to Cole’s supporters. Mittman said one black man was removed because he was divorced, but a white juror was not removed even though he was paying child support.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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