PHOENIX Arizona's highest court on Wednesday lifted the hold it placed on the execution of a man condemned for the 1984 rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, clearing the way for him to be put to death.
The Arizona Supreme Court rejected arguments that the state breached Donald Beaty's constitutional due process rights and protections against cruel and unusual punishment when it substituted one drug for another in the lethal-injection mix it planned to use in his execution.
He had been scheduled to be put to death Wednesday morning, but it was unclear after the high court's ruling when the execution might proceed.
Beaty's lawyers said they would petition the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to block the execution, and an 11th-hour appeal could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We certainly are disappointed the Arizona Supreme Court has lifted the stay," Jennifer Garcia, a federal public defender for Beaty, told Reuters. "We plan to continue to litigate this, and we'll see what happens."
The ruling came after a 45-minute special hearing on the case Wednesday morning.
Arizona switched the sedative in the three-drug "cocktail" it planned to administer to Beaty from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital on Tuesday after federal officials said the state failed to fill out a required form to bring the substitute drug into the country.
Sodium thiopental, which renders the prisoner unconscious, has been at the center of a debate over appropriate execution drugs. Supplies have become scarce in the United States, and efforts to buy stocks overseas have stirred controversy and been turned down flat by some manufacturers.
Beaty, 56, an apartment complex custodian, was convicted of snatching Christy Ann Fornoff from her newspaper route in Tempe, Arizona, in May 1984. He sexually assaulted her, then suffocated her in what was then one of the state's more sensational criminal cases.
Court records said he kept the body inside his apartment for two days. She was later found wrapped in a sheet behind a dumpster there.
A jury deadlocked in Beaty's first trial. He was convicted of murder and sexual assault when a psychologist testified that he confessed to the killing in a group therapy session.
In last-ditch appeals, Beaty's lawyers unsuccessfully maintained his life should be spared because he did not have effective legal representation.
He would be the second inmate executed in Arizona this year, and the 26th since the death penalty was reinstated in there 1992.
Eighteen people have been executed in the United States so far this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor, Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)