Court backs Arizona man's wish to be executed

SAN FRANCISCO Thu Mar 15, 2007 9:54pm EDT

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An Arizona murderer who has fought for years to allow his execution to go forward can waive his right to appeals that might save his life, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday.

Robert Comer, 50, was convicted in 1988 of first-degree murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Most death row prisoners ask courts to stay alive, even up to the final minutes before their executions. But Comer wants to end his appeals.

"Because Comer is competent and has voluntarily decided to waive further proceedings, we grant his ... motions to waive further proceedings, to terminate representation by habeas counsel, and for dismissal of his appeal," said the 14-1 opinion by an expanded panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last year a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit opposed ending his appeals.

They questioned whether he was treated fairly because authorities had to force Comer -- resistant, threatening and naked except for a blanket on his lap -- into a courtroom in 1988 to hear his sentencing.

They said he deserved a new sentencing hearing.

The dissenting judge in Thursday's decision cited Judge Warren Ferguson's September decision for the three-judge panel. He included a photo in his dissent showing Comer tied to a wheelchair, slumped to the side, the blanket on his lap.

"Comer wants to die. Arizona wants to execute him. There is little question that this will happen," Judge Harry Pregerson said in his dissent. "Judge Ferguson's opinion only requires that the sentence of death be pronounced to an understanding human, not to a discarded piece of flesh."

In his 1987 crime, Comer invited a camper to have dinner with him before shooting him in the head. After that murder, Comer and a girlfriend robbed a couple, and then he sexually assaulted the woman four times before the couple escaped.

Other condemned U.S. inmates who gave up their appeals to speed their own deaths include Utah killer Gary Gilmore, executed by firing squad in 1977, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, executed by lethal injection in 2001.

About one in 10 of the more than 1,000 U.S. inmates put to death since Gilmore ultimately gave up their appeals.

The 9th Circuit ruling opens the way for the Arizona Supreme Court to order the state's first execution since 2000, said Katie Decker, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Corrections.

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