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David Weeks, prosecutor from Penry's 2nd trial
"He has used his alleged retardation for his own purposes"
 real 28k

Texas Senator, Rodney Ellis, Democrat
"I am embarassed as an American and as a citizen"
 real 28k

Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 21:45 GMT
Court orders Texas execution delay
Death chamber in Huntsville, Texas
Texas: Record number of executions
The United States Supreme Court has ordered the Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate George W Bush to delay the execution of Johnny Paul Penry.

Mr Penry, 44, was scheduled for execution at 1800 on Thursday (0000GMT), and would have been the third prisoner to be executed in as many days in Texas and the 38th this year - a US record.

The execution of a mentally retarded person is banned under international human rights standards

German deputies
He was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Pamela Carpenter in 1979.

Mr Penry's supporters have said he has the mental understanding of a seven-year-old. Prosecutors insist he is a sociopath pretending to be retarded.

The court said it wanted more time to decide whether to hear arguments that Mr Penry's mental deficiency was not properly explained to the jury - but did not say how long a delay it was ordering.

Texas is set to overtake its own record of 37 executions in one year, the highest number in any US state since records began in 1930.

Groups including human rights group Amnesty International and the American Association on Mental Retardation have taken up his case, along with a mass-circulation British newspaper and German parliamentary leaders.

Johnny Paul Penry
Penry's lawyers say he has the understanding of a seven-year-old
Lawyers for Mr Penry earlier asked Mr Bush to grant him a 30-day reprieve on the grounds that the presidential candidate is too preoccupied with the national election to give the case proper consideration.

But a spokeswoman for Mr Bush said he was thoroughly informed of the case and would not decide until all legal appeals had been exhausted.

Foreign criticism

The case has provoked international interest, with the British tabloid newspaper The Mirror devoting no less than seven pages to what it calls "The Texas Massacre".

Bush has spent as little as four minutes deciding who is executed and who lives

The Mirror
On these pages the paper prints 147 mugshots of men and women Mr Bush has sent to the death chamber in Texas since he became state governor five years ago.

The paper says the Texas governor usually takes less than quarter of an hour to consider final appeals and often opts for shorter briefings from his aides, sometimes taking just four minutes, to decide to go ahead with executions.

"Do we really want a man like him making snap decisions on whether to drop bombs or go to war. Do we really want his finger on the big trigger?" the paper asks.

Beneath the pictures of those executed in the last five years, the paper listed their age, what they were convicted for, their date of execution and their last meal and final words.

Apparently as an assumed foregone conclusion, the Mirror's list includes John Penry as Number 150 whose 21 years on death row for the rape and murder of 22-year-old Pamela Carpenter in 1979 had been due to end in his execution on Thursday.

But while The Mirror might be the most outspoken of the voices raised in defence of Penry's life, it is not the only one.

The parliamentary party of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has written to Mr Bush, expressing its "deepest concerns" about the punishment.

Anti-death penalty organisation Amnesty International, also protested against the execution.

"If it goes ahead, his execution will fly in the face of long-held international standards of justice and decency," said Anne James of Amnesty International's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Texas' record

If he is executed, Johnny Paul Penry would not be the first allegedly mentally retarded inmate to receive the death penalty in Texas this year.

Executions this year
Texas: 37
Oklahoma: 11
Virginia: 7
Florida, Missouri: 5
Alabama: 4
Arizona: 3
North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Tennessee: 1
In August, Oliver David Cruz, whose IQ tested as low as 63, was put to death for the abduction, rape and killing of a woman in San Antonio.

On Wednesday night, Tony Chambers was executed for the sexual assault and murder of an 11-year-old girl.

The day before, Stacey Lawton was put to death for killing a man during a burglary in 1992.

At least three other executions are scheduled in Texas for next month.

The BBC's Valerie Jones in Texas says that US public opinion is more divided over the issue of the death penalty than the increasing number of executions might suggest.

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See also:

16 Nov 00 | Americas
Bush turns to Texas executions
15 Sep 00 | Americas
Italy criticises US execution
09 Aug 00 | Americas
Death penalty dilemma for Bush
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