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Death Row Inmate Beazley's Life Spared For Now - 2001-08-16

A Texas Court has ordered a delay in the execution of a man convicted of carrying out a murder when he was a teenager. The court issued the stay of execution about four hours before Napoleon Beazley was scheduled to be put to death.

Napoleon Beazley was sentenced to death for killing a man while trying to steal his car in 1994. At the time of the murder, Beazley was 17. Many death penalty opponents have criticized the State of Texas for applying the death penalty for a crime committed by a teenager. Some have accused prosecutors of seeking the death penalty because the victim was the father of a federal judge. Officials have denied those charges.

The Texas court rarely grants such stays, but in a two-page ruling issued Wednesday afternoon, it said Beazley is granted a stay of execution pending further orders by the court.

Beazley also has an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a broader review of his case, including whether it is unconstitutional to execute people who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. Courts in several states, including Texas, have ruled it is not.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says Texas law states that a person aged 17 can be sentenced to death, and he sees no reason to change that. "The citizens of the State of Texas have sent a clear message that when you reach 17 years of age, you are going to be held responsible for your actions," the governor said.

Beazley's pending execution has drawn international appeals for a postponement. The Council of Europe Wednesday made public a statement it sent to the governor of Texas asking for clemency. It said the execution would violate international legal standards and the norms of civilized society.

Beazley's friends and family have said they were shocked by the murder. They say he had been a popular athlete and president of his high school class and had no criminal record. Beazley has never denied his role in the murder but his lawyers argue he should not be subject to the death penalty because of his age at the time of the crime.

The lawyer who lodged Beazley's initial appeal in 1996 says he handled it badly in part because he had never filed a death penalty appeal before. Beazley's current attorney is also arguing that the jury that condemned him was all-white and included at least one member thought to be a racist. Beazley is black. He was to become the 19th U.S. prisoner executed since 1976 for a murder committed by a person younger than 18.