MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As the clock ticked down Thursday night, Alabama prison officials announced they would not proceed with the lethal injection of Christopher Lee Price, even if the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an execution stay before midnight.
Price, who was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Fayette County preacher Bill Lynn, received an 11th-hour stay of execution from federal district court at about 3:30 p.m. An appellate court upheld the decision at about 5:30 p.m.
Prison officials in Atmore were prepared to go forward with the execution, however, awaiting a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Shortly after 11:30 p.m., an Alabama Department of Corrections spokesperson said prison officials could not feasibly begin execution procedures before midnight, when Price’s execution warrant expired.
“The State will not move forward with the execution of Christopher Price tonight,” Samantha Banks said. “As a practical matter, the time remaining before the expiration of the death warrant does not permit sufficient time to accomplish the execution in accordance with established procedures. The United States Supreme Court has not acted to set aside the Stay of Execution.”
Price had argued Alabama’s lethal injection protocol has “botched” previous executions and could cause unconstitutional pain and suffering. Price instead asked to opt for death by nitrogen gas, a method Alabama approved last year but has yet to develop protocol for carrying out. The state argued Price failed to opt in for the nitrogen method in 2018 in accordance to a state statute.
In the federal district order, Judge Kristi DuBose stayed Price’s execution 60 days. DuBose wrote Alabama has until May 10, 2019 to “submit evidence in contradiction to Price’s contention that 1) the three-drug execution protocol will cause or is likely to cause him severe pain and 2) that execution by nitrogen hypoxia will significantly reduce the substantial risk of severe pain.”
After the 60-day period, Alabama will likely have to seek a new date of execution from the Alabama Supreme Court.
“Tonight, in the middle of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, the family of Pastor Bill Lynn was deprived of justice,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in an emailed statement. Marshall’s office had appealed to the Supreme Court to vacate Price’s stay.
“They were, in effect, re-victimized by a killer trying to evade his just punishment. This 11th-hour stay for death row inmate Christopher Price will do nothing to serve the ends of justice. Indeed, it has inflicted the opposite — injustice, in the form of justice delayed.”
Before the stay, Price prepared for the expected execution date with a number of visits and phone calls with his attorney, family and fiancée.
Alabama prison officials said his final request was to be married, which was granted. Price and his fiancée were married in the Holman Correctional Facility yard on April 10.
Price was convicted of the brutal slaying of Bill Lynn, a Fayette County preacher, during the course of a 1991 home robbery. Price was 19 at the time of the murder.
Lynn and his wife, Bessie, were at their Bazemore home three days before Christmas when the house’s power went out. When Bill Lynn went outside to check the powerbox, he was attacked, according to court documents. Bessie Lynn later testified that two assailants then beat her before stealing jewelry and money from their home.
Bill Lynn, who prosecutors say was cut or stabbed 38 times with a sword and dagger, died at a hospital approximately 45 minutes after the attack.
Prison officials said Thursday that Bessie Lynn was prepared to witness Price’s execution, along with Bill Lynn’s two daughters, two grandsons and a nephew.
A Fayette County jury in 1993 sentenced Price to death by a vote of 10-2. Price later tried to contest his sentence, alleging his original trial attorney was unprepared for the penalty phase of his trial. Price argued the lawyer failed to offer evidence that the then-teenager was psychologically traumatized following years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his mother’s boyfriends. The Supreme Court declined to review his case in 2013.
Price’s execution is the second set by the state this year. Alabama in February executed Domineque Ray after an 11th-hour U.S. Supreme Court ruling vacated a stay of execution pending a religious rights claim. The court ruled by a narrow majority Ray had waited too late to bring the issue to light.
Ray, a Muslim, had argued Alabama’s practice of including a Christian prison chaplain in the execution chamber was in violation of the First Amendment. Ray sought to have his imam present in the death chamber at the time of his death, but the state said it would only allow trained prison employees in the chamber.
The court’s 5-4 decision to allow Alabama to execute Ray proved controversial across the country, provoking stinging criticism from both capital punishment opponents and conservative evangelicals, who viewed Ray’s claim as a religious liberty issue.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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