Justice secretary: Ky. execution still on hold

Gregory Wilson (Source: Kentucky Department of Corrections)
Gregory Wilson (Source: Kentucky Department of Corrections)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A condemned inmate in Kentucky won't be put to death as initially planned Thursday after the state's high court said it likely would not rescind an order halting the man's execution.

If the Kentucky Department of Corrections doesn't execute 53-year-old Gregory Lee Wilson, his death warrant will expire at midnight. Prosecutors had asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to lift the stay halting the execution, but the court said it likely wouldn't act on that request by day's end.

A jury convicted Wilson, who had previously served time in prison for rape, in 1988 of kidnapping, raping and murdering 36-year-old Debbie Pooley in northern Kentucky a year earlier. Pooley remained missing for more than two weeks before searchers found her body in a rural field in Indiana. A co-defendant in the case, Brenda Humphrey, is serving a life sentence.

In the days leading up to Wilson's scheduled execution date, Pooley's family and friends spoke publicly for the first time in two decades, calling for the lethal injection to go forward. Upon hearing that it wouldn't, Pooley's friend Kathy McBurney Salce of Miami, said she was disappointed.

"As long as he is never a free man," Salce said.

Wilson had been in isolation at the Kentucky State Penitentiary for several days, but was back in his regular cell on death row Thursday morning.

A judge on Friday ordered Wilson's execution - as well as all executions in Kentucky - stopped because of questions about the inmate's mental health and concerns about the state's written procedures for carrying out a lethal injection. Prosecutors immediately appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court, but Wilson's lawyers had 10 days to respond. They hadn't done so by Thursday afternoon.

Kentucky Supreme Court Clerk Susan Clary said until the court is fully briefed and issues a ruling, the stay of execution holds.

The halted execution is the latest twist for Kentucky, which has executed three men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Executions were stalled from 2006 through 2007 while the U.S. Supreme Court weighed a challenge from a pair of Kentucky inmates who claimed lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment.

The high court turned away that challenge, but the inmates pressed on with a challenge to how the state adopted the written protocol. In November, the Kentucky Supreme Court stopped executions in the state, saying the procedures hadn't been properly put into place.

The state readopted the protocol in May, and Wilson was set to become the first inmate to die under the procedures until Franklin Circuit Judge Russell Shepherd issued an injunction prohibiting the execution from taking place.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)