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U.S. Supreme Court agrees to halt Pennsylvania execution

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 11:18 a.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with a federal appeals court on Thursday night to halt Pennsylvania's first execution of a death row inmate since 1999.

State officials had planned to execute a former Cumberland County man, Hubert Lester Michael Jr., 56, by lethal injection at 7 p.m. at SCI Rockview in Centre County. He pleaded guilty to the July 1993 kidnapping and shooting death of Trista Elizabeth Eng, 16, in York County.

Prosecutors filed a motion with the high court to allow the execution to proceed after a federal appeals court decided earlier in the day to send the case back to a U.S. district judge to consider several procedural issues concerning Michael's appeals.

Michael met with spiritual advisers, read the Bible and listened to the radio while awaiting word from the Supreme Court in a cell about 20 feet from the execution chamber, Corrections Department officials said.

“Mr. Michael has suffered from debilitating mental conditions throughout his life,” his lawyers said in a written statement after the appeals court ruling. “Mr. Michael has compelling legal claims in his case which have never been reviewed by any court.”

At a pardons board hearing on Wednesday, the victim's mother, Suzanne Eng, set the tone for relatives and friends who made emotional pleas to keep the execution on track.

“He kidnapped her, he raped her, and then he executed her,” Eng said. “As she begged him not to kill her, he shot her three times.”

A spokeswoman for the Corrections Department said Michael's execution will be scheduled as soon as the stay is lifted.

One of Michael's attorneys, Helen Marino, said he “continues to be incredibly remorseful for his crime.”

Michael would have been the fourth person executed in the state in the past quarter century and the only one in the past 50 years who had not voluntarily given up on his appeals.

The circuit court panel directed the district court to address, among other things, whether Michael's appeal should be considered a successive petition that is subject to stricter rules, whether “extraordinary circumstances” existed and whether a district court proceeding is needed to consider the merits of Michael's claims.

Michael had abandoned his appeals but later resumed a legal fight, saying he had been confined under circumstances at Graterford State Prison that worsened his mental health problems. Those problems got better after he was transferred to a prison in Greene County, his lawyers have argued.

Prosecutors argued that the appeals court decision was in error.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-9027 or abrandolph@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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