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Thursday, March 4, 1999 Published at 03:13 GMT

World: Americas

Countdown to US execution

Lagrand's sister (left) and partner in anguish at the clemency hearing

The US Supreme Court has cleared the way for the execution of a German national in Arizona's gas chamber - despite an appeal court ruling that the use of gas is cruel.

Walter LaGrand, 37, was sentenced to death for his role in the 1982 murder of a bank manager.

The execution had been scheduled to take place earlier on Wednesday, but was delayed when a federal appeal court ruled the gas chamber was a "cruel and unusual punishment".

Clive Myrie: "The German government claims the authorities didn't follow the correct procedure"
The ruling came less than an hour before LaGrand was due to die.

Although the appeal court refused to stop the execution, the judges said he could not be killed by gas.

The Supreme Court then ruled the execution could go ahead as planned.

Determined not to follow brother

Last week LaGrand's brother, Karl, was executed after the Supreme Court overruled a similar appeal court ruling against the gas chamber. But at the last minute Karl LaGrand accepted an offer by the state to be killed by lethal injection.

[ image: Lawyers say the gas chamber is cruel]
Lawyers say the gas chamber is cruel
He was the first German national to have been executed in the US since World War II.

Walter LaGrand has refused offers of lethal injection twice, saying he would prefer a more painful execution in the gas chamber to protest the death penalty.

His case was also heard by the International Court of Justice in the Hague on Wednesday.

The international court has no enforcement powers, but in Judge Christopher Weeramantry of Sri Lanka urged the US Government to use "all the measures at its disposal" to prevent the execution.

International appeals rejected

Germany asked the world court to intervene after Arizona Governor Jane Hull rejected appeals from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to stop the execution.

Germany does not have the death penalty and contends Arizona failed to advise the LaGrand brothers of their right to consular assistance at their trials.

The LaGrands were born in Germany but came to the United States when they were children.

'Gruesome death'

The last Arizona prisoner to die in the gas chamber was Donald Harding in 1992.

Harding's death was considered so gruesome - it took him 11 minutes to die - that Arizona voters voted to require prisoners condemned to die after November 1992 to be executed by injection.

Those sentenced to death before 1992, like the LaGrands, are given a choice.

Thirty-eight US states have capital punishment, and five states offer the gas chamber as an optional method of execution, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

In addition to Arizona, some inmates in California, Wyoming, Maryland and Missouri can choose the gas chamber.

Only 10 of more than 500 inmates executed since the death penalty was restored in 1976 have been gassed, he said.

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State of Arizona

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University of Alaska - general death penalty debate and links

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Friends committee to abolish the death penalty

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