Wednesday, December 10, 2003


It is a week unprecedented in the annuls of DME.COM. A week that brightens the spirits of death penalty opponents. A week that crushes the souls of the families of murder victims, who have waited years, even decades for justice to be served. A week in which four men had a date with the needle. A week in which all four escaped that date.

The skinny on the "Fortunate Four."

1. Billy Vickers, Texas--fatally shot a grocery store owner during a botched robbery attempt almost 11 years ago.

Saved by a lawsuit that sought a permanent injunction against use of pancuronium bromide -- a drug that paralyzes muscles and is one of the three chemicals used in the procedure.

Vickers dodged execution when the 5th Circuit failed to rule by midnight, six hours after the time he could have been put to death, and the death warrant expired.

Vickers became the first condemned Texas inmate to have a death warrant expire since lethal injection became the method of capital punishment in Texas in 1982. Previously, either the inmate was executed, as 313 have been, or a court or the governor halted the punishment.

2. Kevin Zimmerman, Texas--Got a reprieve 20 minutes before he could have been put to death for a fatal stabbing and robbery at a Beaumont motel in 1987. Zimmerman is also part of the above lawsuit.

His reaction: "I'm disappointed," Zimmerman told Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. "I was ready to go. The stay only means 18 more months of this crap."

3. Eddie Crawford, Georgia--Sentenced to death for the 1983 murder of his 2-year-old niece. Crawford is seeking to have several pieces of possible blood evidence tested for DNA. Crawford's lawyers have argued that several items should be tested for DNA based on a new law enacted this year giving inmates greater access to post-conviction DNA testing.

The court issued an order shortly before 4 p.m., about three hours before Crawford was to die by lethal injection at the state prison in Jackson.

4. Bobbie Lee Hines, Texas--Condemned for the 1991 robbery and fatal stabbing of a woman at a Dallas apartment. Hines execution was stopped when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to consider arguments that he is mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty under a Supreme Court ruling last year.

That leaves only one scheduled diner--James Ried, Virginia, Dec. 18--before the kitchen closes for the year. Unless, of course, there is another DNA-retarded-pancuronium bromide moment and the kitchen might already be closed.