Appellate court reverses stay for convicted child killer

Condemned child killer Christopher Sepulvado, who has questioned Louisiana’s execution process, could be executed after a federal appellate court on Friday reversed the stay of execution that he received in February from a federal district judge in Baton Rouge.

Sepulvado, 69, of DeSoto Parish, has been on death row in Louisiana for more than 20 years.

State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell hailed the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, saying it clears the way for Sepulvado to be executed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Sepulvado does not have a new execution date.

“This horrific murder of a 6-year-old child occurred over 20 years ago. Jurors decided that this murderer beat and scalded to death his stepson, Wesley Allen Mercer, and over the past 16 years, state and federal courts at all levels have confirmed his guilt. Now, the unanimous verdict handed down by a jury of his peers has finally been honored,” Caldwell said in a written statement.

The murder occurred in 1992. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider Sepulvado’s appeal several years ago.

“I am glad that the family is finally getting closure and justice will be done,” added DeSoto Parish District Attorney Richard Johnson, who said he helped prosecute Sepulvado as an assistant district attorney.

Sepulvado was scheduled to be executed on Feb. 13, but U.S. District Judge James Brady ruled Feb. 7 that state officials forced him to halt the execution by refusing to provide Sepulvado and his attorneys with details of the execution process.

A three-judge appeals court panel reversed Brady, saying that to adopt the judge’s reasoning would frustrate the state’s significant interest in enforcing its criminal judgments.

Sepulvado’s attorney, Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana Director Gary Clements, said the fight is not over.

“Mr. Sepulvado disagrees with today’s decision ... and intends to file further legal challenges of that opinion, in the form of a motion for a rehearing and, if necessary, subsequent litigation to the United States Supreme Court,” he said.

“The issue of exactly how the state of Louisiana intends to execute Mr. Sepulvado remains unanswered, and we will continue to litigate his right to discover and challenge the execution process, which remains shrouded in secrecy,” Clemens said.

In his February ruling, Brady said the information Sepulvado’s attorneys sought from the state included questions about the supply of death-dealing drugs used for lethal injections.

Before 2010, Louisiana used a three-drug procedure to execute inmates. Since 2010, the first drug in the procedure — sodium thiopental — has been unavailable. In December 2010, the state repealed the section of its administrative code spelling out the specific procedures to be followed in lethal injections.

“Louisiana’s repeal of its lethal-injection protocol — which forms the basis of Sepulvado’s due-process claim — occurred two years before he challenged the state’s secrecy on the eve of his execution,” Circuit Judge Jerry Smith wrote for the appeals court panel. “Any harm accrued in December 2010, and Sepulvado has not explained his failure to bring a claim before December 2012. The district court abused its discretion by granting Sepulvado’s untimely motion for a stay.”

Smith also stated, “There is no violation of the Due Process Clause from the uncertainty that Louisiana has imposed on Sepulvado by withholding the details of its execution protocol.”

Brady noted in his ruling that Sepulvado and his attorneys only learned in early February that state corrections officials had decided to execute him with a single dose of pentobarbital rather than a three-drug concoction used for the state’s last execution, that of Gerald Bordelon in 2010.

Six states — Arizona, Idaho, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Washington — already use a single dose of pentobarbital to execute death row inmates, attorneys for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections have said.