A U.S. appeals court has vacated a stay of execution for a triple murderer and ruled that Missouri can proceed with plans to execute him Wednesday night.
The ruling, issued by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, overturned the decision issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry. She had ruled that the condemned man, John Middleton, 54, met a standard for mental incapacity and should be given a chance for a new hearing.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to execute inmates with mental disabilities.
Middleton's attorneys petitioned the appeals court for a rehearing en banc but that was denied. They also filed a motion Wednesday afternoon with the Missouri Supreme Court seeking a stay of execution and appointment of a "special master" to conduct a hearing on his competency.
In vacating the stay Wednesday, the appeals court set the effective time of its ruling for 6 p.m. and gave Middleton time to petition for a rehearing.
Middleton is a former methamphetamine dealer who was convicted of the 1995 murders of three people who had ties to the drug trade and who prosecutors said Middleton feared would inform on him to police.
The death warrant for Middleton allows for the state to put him to death any time on Wednesday. He had been scheduled to die by injection shortly after midnight on Wednesday at a state prison in Bonne Terre but the execution was called off after Perry's late-night ruling.
The federal judge and the appellate court have gone back and forth on Middleton's fate. Perry had issued a stay of the execution early Tuesday but it was lifted by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday evening.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to stay the execution but lawyers for Middleton filed a new motion, which Perry granted before he could be executed.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster argued in court documents on Tuesday that Middleton was trying to manipulate the court system with the flurry of appeals.
Apart from claims of mental incapacity, Middleton's lawyers have argued new evidence shows he is innocent of the killings of Randy Hamilton, Stacey Hodge and Alfred Pinegar in the summer of 1995.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Bill Trott and Jim Loney)