S. Carolina Execution On Hold

The South Carolina Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution for Richard C. Johnson, who was scheduled to die Friday for killing a state trooper.

A controversial confession from a Nebraska woman has authorities considering new evidence. CBS News This Morning Co-Anchor Thalia Assuras spoke to Johnson's attorney to see what this could mean for the convicted murderer.



Johnson, 36, faced lethal injection for the September 1985 shooting death of Bruce K. Smalls during a traffic stop. Johnson, of Morehead City, N.C., also was convicted of killing a Virginia man who had given him and two other hitchhikers a ride.

But the South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday delayed the execution in response to statements from Connie Hess, a fellow traveler of Johnson's whose testimony was used to convict him.

Recanting last week in a sworn affidavit, Hess said it was she, not Johnson, who killed the trooper. She also said the third hitchhiker killed the Virginia man.

Hess, who was 17 at the time, said she confessed now to ease her conscience. She said she lied originally because "the solicitor told me I would fry" if she committed the crime.

The justices said they needed more time to examine the case and promised to rule no later than Nov. 10.

John Blume, Johnson's attorney, called the delay "a good sign."

"There has been some suggestion by the attorney general's office that her confession to the murder of the trooper shouldn't be believed," Blume tells CBS News. "We want to present all the information about that, such as she had a lawyer who advised her at the time she made the statement - who in fact told her not to make it - told her she could face a murder conviction and a possible death sentence."

"If you look at the physical evidence of the case, there is not one shred of evidence that indicates [Johnson] committed this crime," says Blume. "Immediately upon arrest, they took a gunpowder residue test on his hands which was negative. Even the police had to admit if he had fired a gun, the test should have been positive. It wasn't."

Hess' confession is complicated by her history of mental illness, state Attorney General Charlie Condon said. Hess lives in a Norfolk, Neb., supervised facility for the mentally ill, and all evidence in the case shows Johnson to be the trooper's killer, he said.

Still, "we want every last question that the court may have in this case answered satisfactorily before the execution is carried out," Condon said.

Nevertheless, Blume contends that HessÂ' admission is substantial enough to justify a new trial.

"She was present. She had motive and opportunity. She has admitted that she did it," says Blume. "There's no reason that anyone has given me why that statement shouldn't be taken at anything other than face value."