- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2003

RICHMOND, Va. — The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted a temporary reprieve for a convicted killer scheduled to be executed tonight.

In 1997, James Edward Reid was convicted of bashing Annie Mae Lester, 80, of Christiansburg, in the head with a milk can, strangling her and stabbing her 22 times before staggering out of her home in a bloody, alcoholic stupor.

The appeals court granted the stay late yesterday, and Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore’s office is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the delay.

Defense attorney James Turk said the appeals court granted Reid’s request for a delay pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a similar case.

Mr. Turk said the high court is considering whether to stay the execution of an Alabama death row inmate who has chosen lethal injection but who has damaged veins that prevent an injection in the arm.

Mr. Turk said Virginia prison officials also have had trouble finding a vein in Reid’s arm.

A judge convicted Reid of capital murder, attempted rape and attempted robbery and found that the crime was so vile that it warranted the death penalty.

In their appeals, Reid’s lawyers have argued that his trial lawyer was incompetent and that Reid, 57, didn’t understand the implications of entering what was essentially a guilty plea. The Virginia Supreme Court and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have rejected the appeals.

Reid has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case and has a clemency request pending with Mr. Warner. On Tuesday, Reid’s lawyers also filed an emergency motion asking the state Supreme Court to reopen the case on the grounds that Reid’s trial lawyer was disciplined by the Virginia State Bar for making false statements about the case during the appeals process.

Reid’s current lawyer, James C. Turk Jr., argues that the previous attorney, Peter Theodore, “misrepresented” why he advised Reid to enter the equivalent of a guilty plea instead of taking the case to trial. They contend Mr. Theodore should have argued that Reid was so drunk that he lacked the mental ability to premeditate the murder. Premeditation is a required condition for a death sentence.

According to the bar’s report, Mr. Theodore signed an affidavit during the appeals process indicating that he had tried murder cases in Montgomery County before and found that juries there generally reject such a defense. He later conceded that he never had tried a criminal case before a Montgomery County jury and was unable to identify a case there in which voluntary intoxication had been raised as a defense.

The bar also found that Mr. Theodore was untruthful when he swore that all the lawyers he consulted had advised against him taking the case to a jury. In October 2002, the bar reprimanded him.

Mr. Theodore could not be located for comment.

Mr. Kilgore’s office called the emergency request an attempt to “manipulate this Court into stopping his execution by means of an utterly frivolous motion containing scandalous misrepresentations” and said the appeals courts already have considered the facts behind the bar reprimand.

Prosecutors argued that Reid’s lawyers are trying to evade a rule that limits the number of appeals.

Stabbed 22 times, Miss Lester’s body was found Oct. 12, 1996, in her ransacked bedroom. A bottle of wine was found near the bed, and a trail of blood led to the kitchen. Forensics later determined that Miss Lester had been hit on the head in the kitchen and dragged to the bedroom, where she was stabbed with scissors and strangled with the cord of a heating pad.

After the killing, a drunk and blood-soaked Reid was seen walking from the direction of Miss Lester’s house. Blood on his clothes matched Miss Lester’s DNA, his fingerprints and saliva were found in her room, and his handwriting was found on a card that said “I’ve gotta kill you,” according to the 4th Circuit’s ruling in the case.

Reid said he did not remember the killing.

Two mental-health consultants testified during sentencing that a brain injury from a car accident in 1968 combined with Reid’s alcohol abuse impaired his judgment.

Virginia has executed 89 persons since capital punishment was reinstated in 1982.


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