Condemned Nevada inmate reprieved by state court

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CARSON CITY, Nev, Oct 16 (Reuters) Nevada's highest court gave a reprieve to a former construction worker scheduled to die yesterday, ruling that his execution should await a US Supreme Court decision on the issue of lethal injection and that the state's methods involved excessive sedation.

William Castillo, 34, was to be injected with a deadly combination of drugs administered by prison guards at Nevada State Prison -- one of the country's oldest -- in Carson City.

Last evening, the Nevada State Supreme Court agreed to a request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada to stay the execution pending an upcoming ruling by the US Supreme Court on the constitutionality of execution by lethal injection. The country's highest court agreed on Sept 25 to review the issue, the same day Castillo was scheduled to die.

The Nevada court also said the state's methods are cruel and unusual because the prisoner is so heavily sedated it is impossible for witnesses to determine the actual effects of the injection, effectively violating First Amendment rights.

The ruling is an effective reprieve because Castillo's execution order is only good for a week, and the US Supreme Court is not expected to rule before then. A number of states, including California, have halted executions pending the legal review of whether the current method of lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Castillo had given up his remaining appeals, saying he was ready to die for bludgeoning an 86-year-old Las Vegas teacher to death in 1995.

Castillo worked on Isabel Brendt's roof, then returned with a female companion after finding a house key. He burglarized the home and beat Brendt to death with a tire iron. They later burned down the home.

The execution was to have been conducted under new state rules administering a sedative four hours before the execution and another one hour before. During the execution, prisoners are supposed to be given two other drugs before the final lethal injection.

About 50 people were demonstrating against the death penalty in chilly conditions outside the prison. They expressed satisfaction with the ruling by singing hymns.

So far this year, 24 people have been executed in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas is by far the most active state in meting out society's most severe sanction.

All but one of the 38 US states with the death penalty and the federal government use lethal injection for executions.

Reuters SS RS1031

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