Sunday, May 23, 1999

Advocates continue fighting execution

Appeal for stay filed in federal appeals court

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Kentucky public advocates Saturday asked a federal appeals court to stay the execution of Edward Lee Harper Jr., who says he is tired of appealing and prefers to die.

        Advocates Randall L. Wheeler and Susan M. J. Martin say Mr. Harper is incompetent to volunteer to accept lethal injection at 7 p.m. CDT on Tuesday.

        If the effort fails, he will be the first Kentucky inmate to volunteer to die since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed resumption of capital punishment.

        Mr. Harper was convicted in Jefferson Circuit Court in 1982 of murdering his adoptive parents.

        Appeals in state courts failed, and last month he told U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinney in Louisville that he would forgo a federal appeal.

        At a two-day hearing last week, Judge McKinney ruled that Mr. Harper was competent to fire the advocates and accept execution by injection at the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville.

        The judge was wrong on both issues, the advocates said.

        Part of the problem was assurance from Judge McKinney that the only issue last week was whether Mr. Harper requires a full-blown competency hearing.

        Instead, they said, the judge used the preliminary hearing to resolve both questions and remove final barriers to the death chamber.

        That denied Mr. Harper the probing evidentiary hearing required to judge his competence, the advocates said, and they have been handicapped by court denial of funds to hire experts needed to rebut state witnesses.

        The advocates said Mr. Harper is wildly delusional and requires an updated psychiatric evaluation, especially given recently uncovered evidence of disabling mental illnesses suffered by his birth mother and many of her relatives.

        The initial state response filed Saturday said Judge McKinney used the correct standard for judging Mr. Harper's competence.

        Further, they said, the advocates no longer represent Mr. Harper and have no standing to pursue the appeal.

        An explicit response to the motion for a stay is expected by reopening of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati on Monday.


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