RICHMOND — The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday granted a stay in the execution of a man convicted of fatally stabbing the manager of a pool hall with a pair of scissors.
Robin Lovitt was scheduled to be executed at 9 p.m. yesterday. The full court’s action was made without comment.
Attorneys for Lovitt, 41, had sought a last-minute appeal from the high court and requested clemency from Gov. Mark Warner. Among those fighting the execution are former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who argued the case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February.
The stay will remain in place until October, when the full court resumes. The court then either will hear Lovitt’s appeal or will allow Virginia to proceed with his execution.
Lovitt, 41, was convicted in 1999 in the slaying of Clayton Dicks, 44, during a pool-hall robbery in Arlington.
Lovitt’s attorneys and opponents of capital punishment have argued that the conviction should be reviewed because of the questions surrounding the evidence.
Initial DNA tests of the bloody scissors could not conclusively link Lovitt to the 1998 slaying. A court clerk later destroyed most of the evidence, including the scissors, making additional DNA testing impossible.
The Virginia Attorney General’s Office has maintained that DNA evidence was not critical to the conviction because of “very compelling, strong evidence,” including eyewitness testimony.
“He was found guilty by 12 jurors, two trial judges, seven state justices, one federal district judge and three federal appellate judges,” said Emily Lucier, spokeswoman for the office.
Lovitt has maintained his innocence.
The Supreme Court of Virginia in 2000 found no error by the trial court and affirmed Lovitt’s conviction and death sentence. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Lovitt’s appeal.
All nine justices participated in yesterday’s order, including Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who has thyroid cancer, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is retiring.
The scissors were among the items discarded in 2001 to free up space in the Arlington County Circuit Court’s evidence room. In 2003, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected Lovitt’s assertion that his due-process rights were violated. The justices ruled a court employee did not act in bad faith when he ordered the evidence destroyed.
In May, more concerns were raised after an independent audit found that the state crime lab had erred in critical testing in the case of another death-row inmate, who was pardoned.
The audit prompted the governor to call for a scientific review of more than 160 cases handled by the lab. The review team last month concluded that the lab properly handled the DNA evidence in Lovitt’s case.
Lovitt would have been the first inmate executed in Virginia this year.