- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2007

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine ordered a delay in the execution of a man who was scheduled to be put to death last night for the 2001 murder of a co-worker.

Mr. Kaine gave a reprieve to Christopher Scott Emmett only two hours before the convicted killer was scheduled to die in Virginia’s death chamber. Mr. Kaine said he wants to give the U.S. Supreme Court until Oct. 17 to consider hearing an appeal.

Earlier yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Emmett’s request for a stay, although Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens noted that they would have granted his request for a reprieve.

The governor said the high court has yet to consider whether to hear Emmett’s appeal. Under the Supreme Court’s rules, it takes four votes to agree to hear an appeal, and Mr. Kaine said “basic fairness” dictates Emmett be given that chance.

“Allowing Emmett’s execution to go forward before the Supreme Court rules on his appeal would foreclose any additional review of his case,” Mr. Kaine said. “The irreversibility of an execution and the fact that four Justices of the Court believe a stay is needed to consider the appeal warrant my intervention in this case.”

Emmett’s attorney, Matthew Engle, delivered the news to Emmett in person at the death house.

“I would characterize his reaction as greatly relieved,” Mr. Engle said.

Emmett was sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of John Fenton Langley, whom he beat to death in a Danville motel room in order to rob him of cash to buy crack cocaine.

Mr. Langley and Emmett were friends and had been working together in Danville as part of an out-of-town roofing crew. On the night of the murder, Emmett joined Mr. Langley and their co-workers for dinner and a game of cards at their motel.

Later in the evening, as Mr. Langley, 43, slept, Emmett quietly picked up a lamp, removed its lampshade and light bulb, and hit the father of two several times on the head. He then took a wallet out of Mr. Langley’s pocket and used the money to buy crack.

The victim’s brother, Gene Langley Sr., was shocked to learn of the execution delay from an Associated Press reporter. Family members got the news as they were preparing to leave for the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt to witness the execution.

“We’re all very disappointed,” Mr. Langley said. “I think once they hear everything, they’ll strap him down sooner or later.”

He added: “It ain’t right, but the governor says what he says … October 17th will get here soon.”

In a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Emmett had argued that his trial lawyer, Lawrence Gott, provided constitutionally deficient assistance at trial. Mr. Gott, Emmett said, failed to do a thorough investigation and never uncovered information about his abusive childhood — information, Emmett argued, that could have convinced the jury to spare him the death penalty.

The state says Mr. Gott’s performance was perfectly adequate, arguing that the courts have repeatedly rejected Emmett’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

In 2004, the Virginia Supreme Court concluded that Mr. Gott’s performance was constitutionally deficient because he failed to object to an incomplete sentencing verdict form given to the jury. But the court decided that the error wouldn’t have changed the jury’s decision to sentence Emmett to death.

Mr. Gott has declined to comment on the case.

Emmett declined an interview request through his attorney. But Mr. Engle described his client as a changed man — one who is friendly and caring and worries about what will happen to his 11-year-old daughter if he is executed.

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