- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — As convicted murderer Napoleon Beazley sat within yards of Texas' death chamber writing a farewell letter to his mother and a final statement yesterday afternoon, prison officials told him that his execution — less than four hours away — had been postponed.
Beazley sat a moment stunned, then, according to a prison spokesman, said softly, "I just have to comprehend this."
Outside the prison walls, hundreds of protesters erupted with cheers when word of the reprieve reached them some 10 minutes later.
The stay of execution came from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, where Beazley's attorneys had filed a thick brief, charging that the 25-year-old Beazley had been denied his constitutional rights, that he had suffered jury bias and that prosecutors had coerced false testimony. It mentioned also that his age at the time of his crime, 17, should be considered.
The appeals-court decision, a rare one in a state known for its hard-nosed posture in meting out the death penalty, said: "Applicant is granted a stay of execution pending further orders from this court. The applicant presents 10 allegations challenging the validity of his conviction and resulting sentence."
It was not known whether that court was considering overturning the trial verdict and ordering a new trial or whether the stay was merely to give the tribunal more time to consider the several accusations in the appeal. Courts in earlier appeals have rejected many of the arguments made in the brief.
Beazley's age when he murdered an east Texas man in a 1994 carjacking has prompted an international firestorm over Beazley's fate.
Several church and human rights groups, as well as a handful of foreign nations, have proclaimed that Texas should not execute people younger than 18 for whatever felonies they might have committed. Law enforcement officials generally have agreed with the state's right toexecute 17-year-olds.
Beazley has admitted his role in the murder of 63-year-old oilman John Luttig of Tyler. He shot Mr. Luttig twice in the head at point-blank range and then tried to kill Mr. Luttig's wife, who had scrambled under the car to escape.
Mr. Luttig is the father of 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge J. Michael Luttig, who has ties to three Supreme Court justices.
Judge Luttig clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia and advised Justices Clarence Thomas and David H. Souter during their confirmation hearings. They did not participate earlier this week when the Supreme Court refused to halt the execution in a 3-3 vote, with three abstentions.
Friends and relatives of Beazley from the tiny town of Grapeland, 60 miles south of Tyler, have staunchly fought for a commutation to life in prison for the former high school athletic star and class president.
A lawyer familiar with the Beazley case said in an interview that claims of inadequate representation by Robert Norris, Beazley's first appeals attorney, might have played a part in yesterday's stay.
Mr. Norris said recently in an affidavit that his legal investigation was inadequate and that he did not identify, research or brief any issues pertinent to his client's age, nor did he interview Beazley's two accomplices.
The Austin lawyer was forced to hurry the Beazley appeal and four other death-penalty appeals under a 1995 law that had set strict deadlines for habeas corpus appeals. All five had to be finished in 180 days, he said. He billed the state for only 18 hours of work on the Beazley appeal in the last two weeks before it was due.
"Certain issues critical to the fairness of his capital murder trial were not discovered in his state habeas process because the factual investigation necessary for their discovery was never actually completed before the filing deadline," Mr. Norris said in his affidavit.
The biggest investigative failure appeared to involve Beazley's accomplices, brothers Cedrick and Donald Coleman, who are both serving life terms in prison. They have claimed that prosecutors told them that if they did not testify that Beazley intended to kill that night, they also would be tried for capital murder and risk execution.
Tyler prosecutors have vehemently denied the charge.

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