updated 10/2/2007 7:56:11 PM ET 2007-10-02T23:56:11

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday stopped this week's scheduled execution of a Honduran man.

Heliberto Chi, 28, was set to die in Huntsville for the slaying of an Arlington clothing store manager 6 1/2 years ago during a robbery. Lawyers had filed appeals to halt his execution, scheduled for Wednesday evening, based on claims that lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel.

Chi's punishment would have come a week after the U.S. Supreme Court said it would look at the legality of lethal injection in Kentucky. The justices have since allowed one execution but stopped another in Texas, which uses the same lethal injection procedure Kentucky uses.

He would have been the 27th inmate executed in Texas this year.

"I'm grateful there's some measure of common sense descending on the great state of Texas," Wes Ball, Chi's attorney, said.

Chi's lawyers, cautioning a reprieve was not automatic, went to the courts late Monday to try to block the punishment.

"Mr. Chi's rights will be violated if the State of Texas proceeds with his execution in the manner in which they currently intend, because the Texas lethal injection procedure creates a wholly unnecessary, unacceptable risk that he will experience excruciating pain and suffering," Chi's appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said.

The Texas Attorney General's Office has said it will review each condemned inmate with an approaching execution date on a case-by-case basis. Gov. Rick Perry, who could issue a 30-day reprieve, has said through a spokesman that the matter is for the courts to resolve but also has said he believes the procedure is proper.

Mixed messages
Early last week, within hours of the Supreme Court announcement in the Kentucky case, the courts allowed Texas officials to execute Michael Richard for a slaying 21 years ago.

Two days later, Carlton Turner Jr., a Dallas man condemned for fatally shooting his parents, was spared when the Supreme Court blocked his punishment. Turner's appeal had been rejected by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on a 5-4 vote.

The mixed messages from the Supreme Court left it uncertain if the Kentucky case would stall future executions in Texas.

"I think it definitely says the Supreme Court thinks there's a serious question about the constitutionality of lethal injection," said Morris Moon, Turner's lead appellate attorney who is also involved in the Chi case. The situation in Texas could become more clear after a few more cases, he said.

Terence O'Rourke, another lawyer in the Chi case, was working with the government of Honduras to convince Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles they should spare Chi. Until the lethal injection challenge surfaced, O'Rourke had focused on Chi's inability to contact someone from the Honduran government, a violation of an international treaty, after he was arrested for the 2001 slaying of Armand Paliotta.

"I don't think they've actually taken seriously their responsibility to comply with international law," O'Rourke said of Texas.

He and several Honduran diplomats met with Perry legal advisers to advocate a reprieve.

"This was not a bunch of screaming and shouting and name calling," O'Rourke said. "This was a real presentation in a very sober way of the rights of the Republic of Honduras under international law, including the lawfulness of lethal injection."

The board, however, voted Tuesday 7-0 against a request for commutation, but a request to recommend a 180-day reprieve was much closer, failing by a 4-3 vote.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, ruling in a suit Mexico filed against the United States, has said the convictions of about 50 Mexican-born prisoners violated the 1963 Vienna Convention because they were denied legal help available under the treaty. President Bush then ordered new state court hearings for those prisoners based on the ruling, but his order applies only to imprisoned Mexican citizens.

"There is an argument the case just applies to the country in front of it," O'Rourke said of proceedings before the Netherlands-based court.

'My rights were violated'
David Dow, a University of Houston law professor involved in the Turner and Chi appeals, said Chi was "getting executed because he's Honduran rather than Mexican."

"That seems absurd," he said.

Chi was in the United States illegally when he was arrested in California, then extradited to Texas to face the capital murder charges.

Chi said last week from death row that he would say little about the crime except to describe the victim as a "best friend." Chi had worked as a tailor at the clothing store where the shootings occurred.

"My situation is not about being innocent or guilty," he told The Associated Press. "My rights were violated."

Three other Texas inmates have execution dates extending into next year.

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