By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Denard Manns had an appointment with death. Now, it has to be rescheduled.
The ebb and flow of the judicial system is forcing delays on death penalty cases across the country as judges and elected officials on Wednesday halted executions by lethal injection following a decision by the Supreme Court to examine the punishment and determine if it is unconstitutional.
The decision will delay the execution of 43-year-old Killeen native Denard Manns, who was scheduled to die Jan. 24 by lethal injection.
In March 2002, Manns was found guilty of capital murder in the November 1998 shooting death of 25-year-old Army medic Christine Robson.
Judge Joe Carroll of the 27th District Court presided over Manns' case in 2002 and set the Jan. 24, 2008, execution date.
Lethal injection is "contested as cruel and unusual punishment," Carroll said Wednesday, acknowledging that Manns' execution has been called off. "The Supreme Court said we're going to grant a stay of execution on this case in Kentucky," the case before the court concerning the constitutionality of lethal injection.
The decision to hear the Kentucky case had a ripple effect across the nation. As a result, October was the first month since December 2004 without a state-sponsored execution.
Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said Wednesday that Kentucky's method of lethal injection is similar to execution procedures in Texas, so the district will fall in line with other districts across the country, moving into a holding pattern for its capital punishment method.
Not every district was so inclined to put a hold on executions; the Supreme Court halted an execution Tuesday in Mississippi. The reprieve for Earl Wesley Berry came just minutes before he was scheduled to die and was the third granted by the justices since they agreed in late September to hear the Kentucky case.
Earlier this month, Nueces County prosecutor Carlos Valdez in Corpus Christi also decided not to seek any more execution dates until the matter was resolved.
Garza emphasized that the Supreme Court is not questioning the death penalty, only its method. He said the delay will not affect any potential decision regarding the possible inclusion of the death penalty in future capital offense cases.
The court will consider whether the mix of three drugs used to sedate and kill prisoners and the way they are administered have the potential to cause pain severe enough to violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Garza said if the Supreme Court rules to ban the current system of lethal injection, there has been discussion about the possibility of changing the formula of drugs currently used by Texas and 36 other states.
Garza added that the Supreme Court will begin looking at the case in January.
When the court decides on an appropriate method, he will once again ask Carroll to set an available date for execution.
"When the case comes back before me, the Supreme Court will have then made their decision," Carroll said. "If they make a decision that says it's not cruel and unusual, that it's not unconstitutional, then we'll go forward, ... and I'll schedule a new date. (Manns) is just locked up in the penetentiary, ready to go."
Former Killeen resident Christopher Black Sr., 43, was executed July 9, 2003, the most recent execution for Bell County. Black, a retired Army first sergeant and native of Portsmouth, Va., was sentenced to death Aug. 10, 1998, for the triple shooting deaths of his wife, daughter and step-granddaughter in their Killeen home. For 20 years before Black's sentence, no death sentences had been ordered in Bell County.
Since 1998, three other death sentences have been passed, including Manns'. Derrick Guillen, formerly of Temple, received the death penalty after he was convicted in the March 28, 1998, killing of Margaret Shores, 51, founder of a child-care business that catered to low-income families and disadvantaged children. Guillen was 17 years old.
Most recently, Richard Tabler, 28, was sentenced to death April 2 after he was found guilty March 21 of capital murder in the Nov. 26, 2004, shooting deaths of Haitham Zayed, 28, and Mohamid-Amine Rahmouni, 25, and had confessed to police two days later that he also killed Amanda Benefield, 16, and Tiffany Dotson, 18, on Nov. 28.
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568
The Associated Press contributed to this report.