Thu, Dec 01, 2005 - Page 1 News List

US governor puts execution on hold

AGENCIES , RICHMOND, VIRGINIA AND WASHINGTON

Virginia Governor Mark Warner will halt the execution of a convicted murderer who would have been the 1,000th person put to death in the US since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, CNN reported on Tuesday.

Warner said he could not be absolutely certain that Robin Lovitt was guilty because DNA evidence in his trial had been illegally destroyed, according to CNN.

A court clerk got rid of the scissors a few weeks after a state law requiring preservation of DNA evidence took effect.

In granting clemency, Warner noted the destruction of the scissors, depriving the defense of the opportunity to subject the material to the latest in DNA testing.

Lovitt was scheduled to die by lethal injection in a state prison yesterday evening. Warner is a Democrat considering a run for the presidency and facing an issue that has figured prominently in many past campaigns.

Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and executions resumed in 1977, 999 people have been executed in the US. North Carolina and South Carolina have scheduled executions later in the week.

Lovitt's case has attracted worldwide attention. Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said the governor had received roughly 1,500 phone calls, letters and e-mails from across the US and several foreign countries, almost all urging clemency.

Prominent conservatives have said the case could undermine public support for the death penalty. Former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who investigated then-President Bill Clinton's extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, argued Lovitt's case at an appeals-court hearing in February.

Lovitt was sentenced to death in 1999 for killing a night manager in a pool hall the previous year. He claims another man committed the murder.

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