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Court overturns La. man's stay of execution

MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a judge's order that had canceled the execution of a man convicted of fatally beating and scalding his 6-year-old stepson in 1992.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that U.S. District Judge James Brady abused his discretion when he stayed the Feb. 13 execution date for Christopher Sepulvado.

Brady ruled in February that Louisiana officials had provided too little information about the execution methods and the drug that will be used in the injection.

But the 5th Circuit panel said Sepulvado's request for a stay was "untimely," and it found "no equitable basis for further delay."

Gary Clements, Sepulvado's attorney, said he will challenge the panel's ruling by asking for a rehearing by the court and possibly petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The issue of exactly how the State of Louisiana intends to execute Mr. Sepulvado remains unanswered and we will continue to litigate his right to discover and challenge the execution process which remains shrouded in secrecy," Clements wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Sepulvado was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder for killing Wesley Mercer at his Mansfield home. Sepulvado repeatedly hit the boy on the head with a screwdriver handle and then immersed him in a bathtub filled with scalding water that burned 60 percent of his body. The boy had come home from school with soiled pants.

The state disclosed earlier this year that it planned to switch from using three chemicals to one - a single dose of pentobarbital - to execute inmates. But officials refused to specify the protocol for carrying out executions.

Pentobarbital wasn't used the last time Louisiana executed an inmate, in 2010. The state said one of the three chemicals it did use on that occasion - sodium thiopental - is no longer available.

Brady ruled that Sepulvado is entitled to review the full protocol for how he would be executed.

"Fundamental fairness requires that the inmate be given meaningful and adequate notice of how his rights have been affected by the changes in the execution protocol," the judge wrote.

The 5th Circuit panel disagreed, citing case law that says the courts aren't supposed to function as "boards of inquiry charged with determining 'best practices.'"

"There is no violation of the Due Process Clause from the uncertainty that Louisiana has imposed on Sepulvado by withholding the details of its execution protocol," their opinion says. "Perhaps the state's secrecy masks 'a substantial risk of serious harm,' but it does not create one."

Louisiana repealed its lethal-injection protocol two years before Sepulvado asked for a stay.

Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell said in a statement that the ruling means "the unanimous verdict handed down by a jury of (Sepulvado's) peers has finally been honored."

DeSoto Parish District Attorney Richard Johnson said the case was one of the first he helped prosecute.

"I am glad that the family is finally getting closure and justice will be done," he said in a statement.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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