ATMORE, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday postponed the scheduled execution of an Alabama man convicted of using a sword and dagger to fatally stab a pastor in 1991 as he prepared Christmas gifts for his grandchildren.
U.S. District Judge Kristi K. DuBose issued the 60-day delay two hours before the scheduled lethal injection of 46-year-old Christopher Lee Price. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals maintained the stay, but the Alabama attorney general's office said it has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the stay and let the execution proceed late Thursday evening.
Price's attorneys argued that Alabama's lethal injection drug combination has led to "botched" executions and asked that Price instead be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia, a method the state has authorized but not used. Dubose stayed the execution to weigh Price's claims. Alabama has until midnight to carry out the execution or state attorneys will have to seek a new execution date from the Alabama Supreme Court.
Price was scheduled to receive a chemical injection Thursday evening for killing pastor Bill Lynn. The 57-year-old victim was slain during a Dec. 22, 1991, robbery while he prepared Christmas gifts at his home.
Prosecutors said Lynn was at his Fayette County home getting toys ready for his grandchildren when the power was cut. Lynn went outside to check the fuse box when he was killed, according to court filings.
Lynn's wife, Bessie Lynn, testified that she was in an upstairs bedroom watching television when she heard a noise. She said she looked out a window and saw a person dressed in black in a karate stance, holding a sword above her husband's head. Lynn, a Church of Christ minister, had returned home with his wife from a church service before the slaying.
Bessie Lynn said she went outside to help her husband, but two men ordered her back in the house and demanded money and any jewelry and weapons they had. An autopsy showed that Lynn had been cut or stabbed more than 30 times.
After being arrested, Price initially told police he had been involved in the robbery but said it was an accomplice that killed Bill Lynn. A second man, Kelvin Coleman, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
After Price's murder conviction, a jury recommended a death sentence by a vote of 10-2.
The victim's family and the inmate waited Thursday to see if the courts would let the state proceed with the lethal injection. A prison spokeswoman said that Lynn's wife, daughters and other family members had planned to witness the lethal injection.
For his last requests, Price asked to get married and to have ice cream as his final meal. He was married in the visitation yard of the prison Wednesday and received two pints of Turtle Tracks ice cream for his final meal, prison spokeswoman Samantha Banks said.
The last-minute legal battle centered on the state's potential use of nitrogen hypoxia to carry out executions.
Price's attorneys argued that Alabama's lethal injection drug combination has been linked to "botched" executions and that nitrogen would be less painful.
As states have had trouble obtaining lethal injection drugs, Alabama in 2018 authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative for carrying out death sentences. However, the state has not used nitrogen in an execution or developed procedures to do so.
Attorneys for the state responded that Price was only seeking to delay his execution and had missed a deadline to select nitrogen as his preferred execution method after the 2018 law was approved.
U.S. Supreme Court precedent says inmates challenging a state's method of execution must show that there is an available alternative that is also likely to be less painful. The state argued in court filings that even though nitrogen hypoxia is authorized under Alabama law, it is unavailable because the state has been unable to "procure the means for executing someone with nitrogen gas."
Price's attorneys pointed to the fact that Alabama has allowed inmates to select nitrogen.
According to the state, 48 of the more than 170 inmates on death row have elected to be put to death by nitrogen hypoxia. Proponents of the change argued nitrogen would be readily available and hypoxia would be a painless way to die.
Alabama has carried out one execution so far this year. In February, inmate Dominique Ray was executed for the 1995 murder of a 15-year-old girl.