Justices Stay Execution, Signaling Moratorium

Lower courts will defer until 2008 review
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2007 6:30 AM CDT
This Feb. 21, 2001 file photo provided by the Mississippi Department of Corrections shows Mississippi inmate Earl Wesley Berry in Parchman, Miss. The Supreme Court halted an execution in Mississippi Tuesday,...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – The Supreme Court delivered an eleventh-hour stay for a prisoner slated to die by lethal injection last night, giving what the New York Times calls a "nearly indisputable indication" that a majority of justices are willing to block all executions until they rule on a death penalty case next spring. Earl Berry had eaten his last meal in a Mississippi jail, and the verdict was delivered 19 minutes before the scheduled execution.

The decision imposes a de facto moratorium on all executions until 2008, the Times concludes, as lower courts will now have to grant stays while the Supreme Court considers the overriding case. At issue is not the constitutionality of the death penalty, but a procedural question of how to evaluate arguments that a lethal injection produces suffering amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.