The execution of a man who abducted and killed an eight-year-old girl and raped her 10-year-old friend has been delayed.
Virgil Delano Presnell Jr – who committed the crimes in 1976 – was due to die by lethal injection at a Georgia prison at 7pm today.
However, lawyers told a court it would break an agreement that effectively put executions on hold during the pandemic.
They said it guaranteed no death sentences would be carried out until six months after three conditions had been met: the end of a coronavirus judicial emergency, the resumption of normal visiting rights, and the availability of a vaccine “to all members of the public”.
But prisons were still using a modified visiting policy and children under five still couldn’t get the vaccine, said Mike Caplan, a lawyer for the Federal Defender Program.
A state lawyer argued the deal wasn’t a binding contract and that Georgia had “substantially complied” with the terms of the deal.
Presnell’s lawyer, Monet Brewerton-Palmer, was also given just two days’ notice of the execution date and therefore hadn’t had enough time to prepare for Monday’s clemency hearing and arrange for expert witnesses, the lawsuit claimed.
Georgia’s pardons and paroles board refused to intervene in the execution after the hearing.
“This is often the best hope that a death sentence prisoner has of not being executed,” Mr Caplan said.
“Her case this morning for clemency was completely gutted.”
Ms Brewerton-Palmer claimed in her clemency application that the killer, now 68, is “profoundly brain damaged” and didn’t understand the harm he was causing the two girls – who he abducted as they walked home from school in Cobb County, near Atlanta.
His lawyers were ultimately successful in pausing the lethal injection, which was set to use the sedative pentobarbital at a state prison in Jackson.
Fulton County judge Shermela Williams issued a temporary order blocking the execution to give Ms Brewerton-Palmer time to properly prepare for a new clemency hearing.
The judge said Presnell would suffer irreparable harm if the execution wasn’t delayed, commenting: “We can’t come back from death.”