- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

DALLAS — The man who has been on the Texas death row longer than anyone else in history was saved from scheduled execution last week by the U.S. Supreme Court with no specific reasons given for the intervention.

Ronald Curtis Chambers, who has been convicted three times for the same crime and each time given the death sentence, was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday.

Last Monday, however, prison officials were advised that Chambers, who has been on “the row” for almost 31 years, had received a stay. The stay arrived in a one-line order written by Justice Antonin Scalia.

In April 1975, Chambers and another man, Clarence Williams, abducted two college students outside a nightclub and drove them to the Trinity River bottoms west of downtown Dallas. After robbing them, the two men shot and beat the victims, leaving them for dead.

Student Mike McMahan died, but his date that night, Deia Sutton, lived and later testified against the men.

Chambers was convicted in a few months and sentenced to die. Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and murder and received two life sentences. He remains in prison.

Appeals courts have overturned Chambers’ death sentences twice. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his sentence in 1984 shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a defendant must be informed that statements made to a psychiatrist could be used against him. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination in jury selection. Chambers is black.

Juries in Dallas County subsequently imposed death sentences for Chambers in 1985 and 1992.

Chambers’ attorney, James Volberding, who has represented the accused for more than a decade, asked the high court to postpone his client’s execution until they ruled on three similar Texas cases that have raised questions about whether jurors were properly instructed to consider mitigating factors while pondering the use of the death penalty.

“We are grateful for the stay,” Mr. Volberding said. “We did not know if the court would grant it.”

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the mitigating factors cases earlier this month.

The stay of execution did not include any suggestion or rule to guide the case. The stay eventually could be lifted and the execution rescheduled, the case could be sent back to lower courts in Texas or, although unlikely, the high court could hear the case itself.

Newly elected Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he would push again for the death penalty if a new trial is granted here.

“It’s pretty clear cut. I’ve seen the pictures. It’s pretty bad,” he said.

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