LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Ralph Baze had been down this road before
- spending several weeks making plans to meet with his family for
the final time as he prepared to die by lethal injection.
"I've been preparing to die for the last few weeks," Baze
said. "I told everybody this time it's a real possibility that it
will go forward."
Only, it won't. The Kentucky Supreme Court on Wednesday halted
Baze's execution scheduled for Sept. 25. The justices want to hear
arguments about whether his trial was properly moved from Powell
County to Rowan County.
It's at least the second time Baze, 52, has faced an execution
date, only to see the courts step in and keep him alive. A judge in
2001 stopped Baze's execution for the 1992 slayings of Powell
County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe.
Bennett and Briscoe were serving warrants on Baze when he shot
them. Baze has said the shootings were the result of a family
dispute that got out of hand and resulted in the sheriff being
Baze's family from Toledo, Ohio, is scheduled to visit him
Thursday at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville.
"I've got some good news for them," Baze told The Associated
Press in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "You can imagine what
this has been like. This has been rough on us for the last three or
Chief Justice Joseph Lambert said in the one-page ruling that
Baze's appeal of his trial being moved was filed before Gov. Ernie
Fletcher signed the warrant so Baze has the right to have the issue
heard. A hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 15, making it unlikely
that Baze will face execution before then.
Assistant public advocate David Barron, one of Baze's attorneys,
said the high court's decision concurred with the arguments
attorneys have been making since Fletcher signed the warrant last
month - that Fletcher should have waited until all the pending
legal appeals were done.
"It just vindicated what we've said all along about the warrant
being signed prematurely," Barron said.
Jodi Whitaker, a spokeswoman for Fletcher, said nothing can
bring back Bennett and Briscoe, but the families deserve to see
this case come to an end.
"The governor shares the frustrations of the Bennett and
Briscoe families, who have waited 15 years for justice," Whitaker
Attorney General Greg Stumbo issued a written statement saying
his office will continue working to see that Baze is executed.
"We are confident that any remaining issues will be resolved in
the Commonwealth's favor," Stumbo said.
Baze said Fletcher signed the warrant to score points with
voters in the Nov. 6 election. Baze and his attorneys sent the
governor's office information about the case that should have
persuaded him not to sign the warrant, Baze said.
"The election is coming up, and he doesn't want to be soft on
crime," Baze said.
Fletcher's executive counsel, David Fleenor, said politics and
the election played no part in the decision to sign the warrant.
Courts had barred Baze's execution until July and, once that stay
was lifted, Stumbo's office sent a valid request to execute Baze.
"The governor wanted to do this as far from the election as
possible," Fleenor said. "It's not something this governor views
in political terms."
For Baze, who has been challenging the constitutionality of
lethal injection for the last three years and has several cases
pending in the courts, the stay came as a relief.
"I'm tickled," Baze said. "I prayed about it. I just believed
if there was any justice in this world at all, I would get an
opportunity to show this stuff. It came in God's time."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)