The U. S. Supreme Court blocked the execution Wednesday of Clarence Hill, who had been scheduled to be executed for the 1982 murder of a Pensacola police officer.
The court wants to consider his appeal that the cocktail of chemicals the state uses to kill condemned inmates causes pain and violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and inhuman punishment.
Hill had been strapped to a gurney and IV lines were running into his arms Tuesday night, his attorney says, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy issued a temporary stay. The full court continued the stay Wednesday.
“What a fantastic day! What a fantastic day,” said D. Todd Doss, Hill’s attorney. “What a relief.”
Doss said he was sent a briefing scheduled, with the first brief due on March 6 and oral arguments are set for April 26, meaning it will likely be the summer before the court issues its opinion.
In a flurry of last-minute appeals, Hill, 48, claimed he was mentally retarded and should not be executed, and he also had challenged the state’s use of execution drugs.
Later Tuesday night the Supreme Court rejected one of Hill’s three appeals, but did not act on the remaining two.
A total of 29 witnesses had gathered at the Florida State Prison, in an observation room separated from the execution chamber by windows. Their view was blocked by a brown curtain remained drawn. Some witnesses exchanged notes while waiting.
The witnesses, who included Florida Senate President Tom Lee and several of the victim’s relatives, were sent home after Kennedy filed paperwork that said Hill’s death sentence would “be stayed pending further order” of the justices.
Witnesses and journalists remained at the execution site for about an hour, waiting for further information, as officials awaited a court decision.
Earlier, Hill had lost appeals at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Hill is sentenced to die for the Oct. 19, 1982, slaying of Pensacola police Officer Stephen Taylor, 26, and the wounding of his partner, Larry Bailly, when they responded to a silent alarm of a bank robbery at Freedom Federal Savings Bank.
Hill shot Taylor in the back as he tried to handcuff his accomplice. Bailly returned fire, wounding Hill.
Hill would have been the 61st inmate executed in Florida since 1976, when executions resumed after a 12-year moratorium, and the 257th since 1924, when the state took that duty from individual counties.
Hill’s accomplice was sentenced to life in prison.
It was not immediately clear how Wednesday’s ruling would affect next week’s scheduled execution of Arthur D. Rutherford, who killed Stella Salamon at her Santa Rosa County home in 1985. Rutherford had done some repair work for Salamon, whose body was found submerged in a bathtub where she had been drowned or asphyxiated.