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Texas court stays second execution in a week ‘because of coronavirus’

Texas court stays second execution in a week ‘because of coronavirus’
A Texas appeals court has issued a 60-day stay of execution for convicted murderer Tracy Beatty, citing the “enormous resources” needed to deal with the coronavirus crisis - its second such decision this week.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals pressed pause on Beatty’s execution on Thursday, explaining in its decision that “the current health crisis and the enormous resources needed to address that emergency” necessitated waiting 60 days before setting a new date. Beatty was convicted and sentenced to death 15 years ago for killing his mother and burying her in his backyard, and was due to be executed next week.

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Beatty’s lawyer filed to halt the execution on Monday, citing the “unprecedented proportions” of the pandemic, which has killed three people in Texas and infected at least 95. He was apparently inspired by a similar decision made earlier that day to stay the execution of fellow death-row inmate John Hummel, who was sentenced to death in 2011 after killing his pregnant wife, his father in law, and his 5-year-old daughter and setting their house on fire to cover up the crime.

Hummel’s lawyer had carried his “because of coronavirus” arguments even further, insisting that the raging epidemic prevented him from carrying out last-minute investigations and that the execution procedure itself, which crowds law enforcement, media, officials, and family members into a small room, raises the risk of transmission.

Prosecutors in both cases were opposed, pointing out that there was no logical reason to believe that Texas’ emergency declaration would impact the state’s ability to safely execute a prisoner. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice told AP that they would screen execution witnesses using the same system that is in place for screening prison employees to ensure they do not spread coronavirus among the confined and vulnerable population.

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Lawyers have leveraged unrelated emergencies to put off executions before, especially in Texas, which kills more prisoners than any other state. Then-governor Rick Perry granted a 30-day stay to an inmate scheduled to die on September 11, 2001, and a Bexar County court postponed an execution after 2017’s Hurricane Harvey because the defense attorney lived in one of the hardest-hit counties.  

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