High Court Halts Execution Of Child Killer

Mark Dean Schwab is seen in this undated photograph supplied by the Florida Department of Corrections.
AP/Florida Dept. of Corrections
The U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution of a convicted child killer Thursday, hours before he was scheduled to die.

The move by the United States' highest court was widely expected as it considers the appeals of two Kentucky inmates challenging the same lethal toxic three-drug combination used in Florida. Already, the high court has blocked executions in three other states since accepting the Kentucky case Sept. 25.

"The message from the justices is clear: no more executions until and unless we resolve the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "And that is not going to happen until next spring at the earliest, when the court determines whether lethal injections constitute cruel and unusual punishment."

Thursday's decision came just hours after a federal appeals court ruled that Mark Dean Schwab's execution should continue as planned, reversing a lower court's ruling the day before.

Schwab's execution for the 1991 killing Junny Rios-Martinez would be the first in Florida since the botched execution of Angel Diaz last Dec. 13. It took 34 minutes for Diaz to die - twice as long as normal - because the guards pushed the needles through his veins.

"He was wincing, he was shuddering," Gainesville Sun newspaper reporter Nathan Crabbe told CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews. "His head was shaking back and forth. He was squinting his eyes as if he was experiencing pain. It looked like he was gasping for air."

That and other recent incidents around the United States have led several states to question their execution procedures and even put further executions on hold.

Andrews reports that critics of the three-drug lethal injection process argue that inmates who are improperly sedated in the first step will feel the intense pain of the heart attack triggered by the last drug they are administered. They are not able to communicate what they are experiencing because of the effects of the paralysis-inducing second drug.

Fordham University Law professor and lethal injection opponent Deborah Denno, explained, "It creates the potential for unnecessary pain and suffering when in fact, we know that alternatives exist."

Florida Governor Charlie Crist said he was disappointed for the Rios-Martinez family.

"If you believe in the death penalty as I do, then I think it's important to have justice done," he said. "There are consequences to actions like that and, you know, I believe in the deterrent effect it can have on others that might contemplate such horrific deeds."

Schwab, who had an earlier sexual assault conviction, saw the boy's photo in a newspaper and gained the confidence of his family, claiming he was with the newspaper and was writing an article on him.

Schwab later called Junny's school and pretended to be Junny's father and asked that the boy meet him. A friend saw Junny get into a truck with a man.

During his trial, it was revealed that Schwab kidnapped the boy, bound his hands and face with duct tape and cut off the boy's clothes. He raped the crying boy before strangling him.

After the boy's murder, the Legislature passed the Junny Rios-Martinez Act, which prohibits sex offenders from early release from prison.

Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, applauded Thursday's decision to stay the case.

"A decision to kill caused this terrible tragedy. Another killing cannot repair the damage done," he said.