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U.S. appeals court grants stay hours before Texas execution

Robert Campbell is pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of Texas Department of Criminal Justice. REUTERS/Texas Department of Crim
Robert Campbell is pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of Texas Department of Criminal Justice. REUTERS/Texas Department of Crim

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court granted a stay of execution for a Texas inmate hours before he was to be put to death on Tuesday to see if the punishment should be suspended because the convict was intellectually disabled.

Convicted rapist and murderer Robert James Campbell was set to be the first inmate executed in the United States since a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma in April raised new questions about capital punishment.

"Campbell and his attorneys have not had a fair opportunity to develop Campbell's claim of ineligibility for the death penalty. In light of the evidence we have been shown, we believe that Campbell must be given such an opportunity," a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote in a decision issued on Tuesday.

Texas officials were reviewing the court's order and had no further comment, said Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General's office.

Lawyers for Campbell also asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay on grounds that the problems in Oklahoma and secrecy surrounding execution drugs demand a halt to allow for a sober reflection on how the death penalty is carried out.

Campbell, 41, was convicted along with a co-defendant of kidnapping Alexandra Rendon from a Houston gas station in 1991. The pair drove her to a desolate area, raped her and then told her to run.

Campbell then shot her in the back and left her to die, stealing her car to get away.

He was to have been put to death by lethal injection at the state's death chamber in Huntsville at 6 p.m. CDT (7.00 p.m. ET).

About two weeks ago, Oklahoma attempted to halt the execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett after what prison officials said was a blown vein that made them unsure if the lethal cocktail was being properly administered.

Lockett, mumbling and in apparent pain on a prison gurney with an IV in his groin, died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the procedure started. The execution was the state's first using a new three-drug lethal injection mix.

The White House said the Oklahoma execution failed to meet humane standards. President Barack Obama said it raised questions about the death penalty and that he would ask the U.S. attorney general to look into the issue.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Edith Honan, Mohammad Zargham and Dan Grebler)

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