WASHINGTON (CN) – Revisiting a case whose handling prompted a scathing dissent last month from Justice Stephen Breyer, the U.S. Supreme Court declined any further action Monday in the planned execution of Alabama killer Christopher Lee Price.
Convicted in Alabama for the 1991 sword-and-dagger murder of pastor William Lynn, Price waited until Jan. 27, 2019, to ask that he be executed by poisonous gas rather than the state’s planned method of lethal injection.
Price’s efforts were initially unsuccessful, but a federal judge granted him an injunction on April 11, approximately two hours before Price was set to be executed at 6 p.m. local time. The 11th Circuit entered its own stay as well, but the Supreme Court opted to vacate the stays in the wee hours of April 12.
In yet another reprieve for Price, however, the order came after the warrant to execute had expired. Justice Breyer lamented the court’s hasty action at the time — saying they should have waited a few hours to discuss the case during a conference on the morning of the 12th — but
Justice Clarence Thomas pushed back against this criticism Monday after denying Price a writ of certiorari.
“Justice Breyer framed the issue before the court as ‘the right of a condemned inmate not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment,’’ Thomas wrote. “That framing was incorrect. The issue before the court was whether the lower courts abused their discretion in staying the execution. For three independent reasons — all raised by the state in its application — the state was entitled to vacatur. The dissent failed to adequately address any of them.”
Appointed to the bench by former President George H. W. Bush, Thomas described the brutal details of the murder Price committed, including Lynn’s body being discovered by his wife as she came home from church just three days before Christmas.
As for Breyer’s complaints about how Price’s stay request was handled by the prison warden — Price was allegedly given the form only 72 hours before his deadline for appeal — Thomas called such criticism “irrelevant.”
“The warden at Holman Correctional Facility, went beyond what the statute required by affirmatively providing death-row inmates at Holman a written election form and an envelope in which they could return it to her,” Thomas wrote. “No fewer than 48 other inmates took advantage of this election. Petitioner did not, even though he was represented throughout this time period by a well-heeled Boston law firm.”
Aaron Michael Katz, an attorney for Price with the Boston firm Ropes and Gray, did not return request for comment.
Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall argued last month that Price’s legal fight had compounded harm to Lynn’s family.
“Justice will be had for Pastor Lynn and his family,” Marshall said last month. “As for Christopher Price, his day of justice will come.”
Marshall reportedly asked the Alabama Supreme Court to waive the usual 30-day notice for death warrants, but it appears the court ignored the request and set Price’s execution for May 30.
Price’s appeal came only a few weeks after the Supreme Court refused a similar challenge to lethal injection from Russell Bucklew, a Missouri inmate with a rare blood disorder.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the case that “courts should police carefully against attempts to use such challenges as tools to interpose unjustified delay.”