A federal judge on Thursday blocked the execution of a Texas man after an appeals court ruled that the Justice Department’s protocols for execution violate federal law.
Orlando Hall, 49, would have been the eighth person executed by the federal government this year after a 17-year hiatus.
Hall, an African-American man, was convicted by an all-white jury for his role in the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of 16-year-old Lisa Rene, the sister of two Texas drug dealers he believed had stolen money from him.
Another man involved in the crime, Bruce Webster, was also sentenced to death, but a court vacated that sentence last year because Webster has been reported to be intellectually disabled. Three other men were also convicted but received lesser sentences after they cooperated with the prosecutors.
Hall, who is being held at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, is the subject of three appeals to halt his execution. Hall’s attorneys have also argued that racial bias played a role in the sentencing and that jurors were not given the opportunity to hear mitigating circumstances about Hall’s life before considering a sentence. The Justice Department is expected to appeal Thursday’s ruling.
“The court is deeply concerned that the government intends to proceed with a method of execution that this court and the Court of Appeals have found violates federal law,” U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote in her opinion.
Attorneys had also challenged the method of execution, lethal injection involving pentobarbital, arguing that federal law requires a prescription to use the drug. The Court of Appeals agreed last week but did not delay the execution.
Federal documents say that Hall sold marijuana in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in the early 1990s, occasionally selling his product in the Dallas, Texas, area. In 1994, he gave two brothers he met at a car wash $4,700 to buy marijuana, but when Hall spoke with them again, they said their car and the money had been stolen. Believing they were lying, Hall and several others tracked down the brother’s apartment in Arlington, Texas, and went to demand the money.
The brothers were not home, court documents said, but their teenage sister, Lisa Rene, was home alone. The men kidnapped the girl, driving her to a motel in Pine Bluff, where they repeatedly raped her for over two days. On September 26, Hall and two other men put a mask on Rene and drove her to Byrd Lake Natural Area, to a grave site they dug the day before.
With a sheet over her head, Hall hit Rene in the head with a shovel. She tried to run, but Hall and another man hit her again with the shovel. They gagged her and dragged her to the grave, dousing her in gasoline and shoveling dirt over her a s eventually killing her.
But a coroner determined that Rene was still alive when she was buried and died of asphyxiation. Her body was found eight days later.