ST. LOUIS – A district judge agreed to halt the lethal injection of a Missouri death-row inmate, but the decision was quickly appealed to a federal appeals court just hours ahead of the execution scheduled for Tuesday evening.
Andre Cole, 52, was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing a man in St. Louis County in a fit of anger over having to pay child support in 1998. His execution is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Although similar arguments were rejected by the Missouri Supreme Court last week, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled late Monday that Cole was incompetent to be executed because of mental illness.
“He hears voices over the TV, over the prison intercom. Everywhere,” Cole’s attorney, Joseph Luby, told The Associated Press. He said Cole believes that Gov. Jay Nixon, prosecutors and others “are giving him messages about his case.”
But the Missouri Attorney General’s Office quickly appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing there was no legal reason for the judge to overturn the Missouri Supreme Court ruling that allowed the execution to proceed.
Regardless of the appellate court’s ruling, the case will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Cole’s attorneys have already asked the high court to stop the execution based in part on concerns over Missouri’s execution drug, which was purchased from a compounding pharmacy that the state refuses to identify.
Several outside groups, including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, are pushing Nixon to stop the execution and appoint a board to examine concerns about racial bias in Missouri’s jury selection process. Cole, who is black, was convicted and sentenced by an all-white jury.
“The criminal justice system in this country is unfair,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU in St. Louis. “It targets persons of color. It treats the African-American community differently.”
Nixon’s spokesman said the clemency petition was under review.
Cole’s brother said the brutal crime was out of character, a sudden act of passion that doesn’t merit the death penalty.
“It was a one-time thing,” said DeAngelo Cole, 38, of Las Vegas. “He didn’t have a history of that kind of behavior.”
Cole and his wife, Terri, divorced in 1995. The couple had two children and fought about visitation. Evidence showed that Andre Cole was upset that the government had ordered $3,000 in unpaid child support to be taken from his wages over the course of several paychecks.
The first deduction appeared on his paycheck dated Aug. 21, 1998. Hours later, Cole forced his way into his ex-wife’s home and was confronted by Anthony Curtis, who was visiting. Andre Cole stabbed Curtis and Terri Cole repeatedly. Curtis died, while Terri Cole survived.
Andre Cole fled the state but surrendered 33 days later. He claimed at trial that he did not bring a weapon into Terri Cole’s house and that Curtis initiated the attack with a knife.
St. Louis County prosecutors removed three black potential jurors from the pool of candidates, according to Cole’s supporters. Mittman said one black man was removed because he was divorced, but a white juror was not removed even though he was paying child support.