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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 11:47 GMT
Straw's appeal for death row Briton
Tracy Housel
Tracy Housel is due to be executed in Georgia
A personal appeal to save the life of a British rapist and murderer facing the death penalty in the US has been made by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

An execution warrant for Tracy Housel was signed on Wednesday in Georgia and he is set to be killed by lethal injection in the week before Tuesday 19 March.

Following the decision Mr Straw called state governor Roy Barnes to ask for the sentence to be changed to life imprisonment, a Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed.

She told BBC News Online: "It's our policy to make representations against the imposition of the death penalty against Britons."

Housel, 43, was born in the British territory of Bermuda and has spent 16 years on death row following his conviction for beating and strangling a woman during a two-week crime spree in 1985.

'No authority'

Mr Straw's call to the Georgia governor was made on Wednesday night, in a bid to stop Housel becoming the first Briton executed in the US for seven years.

Housel is no more English than I am

District Attorney Danny Porter
But Mr Barnes told the foreign secretary he does not have the authority to change the sentence and advised him to contact the parole board instead.

In a letter to the parole board earlier this month, Mr Straw wrote: "The British Government fully shares Georgia's desire to punish violent criminals and recognises the need for severe penalties.

"We are not, however, persuaded that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment or deterrent."

'Legalistic ploy'

The involvement of the British Government was criticised by District Attorney Danny Porter, prosecuting, who said: "Housel is no more English than I am.

Tracy Housel killed a woman during a two-week crime spree
Housel's mother asked Jack Straw to help her son
"To me, it's a very legalistic ploy to involve another government to manipulate the judicial system of Georgia."

Mr Straw acted after meeting Housel's mother, Lula Pellerin, before the US Supreme Court rejected his final appeal.

More than 100 British MPs and legal bodies including the Law Society and the human rights committee of the Bar Council also appealed to the Supreme Court on Housel's behalf.

Brain damage

Housel's lawyers claim he was unfairly represented in his original trial, and that his human rights were abused.

They claim he was temporarily insane at the time of the crime because of brain damage suffered in childhood - an issue which they say was not discussed in the Georgia court that convicted him.

They also argue that he suffered from a rare and extreme form of hypoglycaemia, which caused him to undergo violent mood swings and blackouts, and that he was represented by an inexperienced lawyer.

See also:

25 Feb 02 | Americas
Death row Briton's appeal denied
25 Feb 02 | Americas
Appeal bid for death row Briton
11 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Death row mother's Straw 'hope'
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