The U.S. Supreme Court stopped the execution Thursday of a 33-year-old Texas prisoner on death row for gunning down an off-duty Houston police sergeant 14 years ago.
Anthony Haynes had been set to die for the shooting death of Sgt. Kent Kincaid, 40, while the officer was with his wife driving in their own vehicle not far from home. Their SUV had been struck by an object from a pickup truck, cracking its windshield. When Kincaid got out to talk to the people in the truck and told them he was a police officer, he was shot in the head.
The high court issued its brief two-paragraph ruling about 2 1/2 hours before Haynes could have been taken to the death chamber. The order said only that the execution was stopped so the justices could consider whether to review the case. If they chose not to review, the reprieve would be lifted, the court said. The order also said Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito would have rejected the appeal.
"God told me I will not die on death row," an ecstatic Haynes said from a tiny cell a few steps from the chamber. "He gave me the faith to believe the impossible. He put some things in my path to keep me focused. God proved himself to be faithful. He delivered me from the death chamber. To God be the glory."
He then was placed in a van to be returned to death row at a prison about 45 miles east.
Haynes confessed to the May 1998 slaying, was tried for capital murder the following year and sentenced to death.
His lethal injection would have been the 11th this year in Texas, the nation's most-active death penalty state. Another is set for next week.
Evidence showed the object that hit the Kincaids' SUV was a .25-caliber bullet from the same gun used to shoot him. Testimony at Haynes' 1999 trial in Houston showed that same evening Haynes had committed a series of armed robberies.
Haynes' trial lawyers showed "virtual abdication of their duty" by failing to more fully investigate and present evidence of Haynes' good character to jurors who were deciding his punishment, his appeals attorney, A. Richard Ellis, told the high court in his appeal.
He also contended prosecutors unfairly painted Haynes, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, "as an out-of-control, violent and unpredictable individual who was subject to intermittent fits of rage."
"This picture was totally at variance with his actual character," Ellis said.
The appeal also faulted attorneys at earlier stages of Haynes' appeals for not addressing the trial defense issues and contended lower court rulings and Texas appeals procedures unfairly kept Haynes from raising the claims now. Similar appeals in recent Texas death penalty cases have failed to win reprieves from the high court although at least one other did. That case, involving prisoner John Balentine, is set for conference before the justices for later this month.
The arguments center on a Supreme Court ruling favorable to an Arizona prisoner who couldn't find a way to make an appeal under procedures in that state. Texas attorneys argued the statutes in Texas were different, did allow for appeals like the one Haynes insisted he couldn't raise and that courts had determined the Arizona ruling had no effect in Texas.
"I am very grateful for the stay, which will allow the court to consider Mr. Haynes' claim regarding the application of the (Arizona) case to Texas cases," Ellis said.
State attorneys contesting Hayne's appeal argued his previous attorneys didn't abandon him and shouldn't be considered ineffective because they chose issues different from those now being pursued by Ellis.
"Haynes does not now present any compelling reasons for this court to review his claims," Jeremy Greenwell, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the justices.
Greenwell pointed out evidence of Haynes' history of explosive temper outbursts, of police being summoned to deal with his threats against a school nurse and an ROTC instructor, that he assaulted his 3-year-old sister and tried to kill the family dog.
"He was no angel," Mark Vinson, the Harris County district attorney who prosecuted Haynes, recalled last week.
Kincaid's wife couldn't describe the shooter and provided only a cursory description of the truck but said she was certain her husband identified himself as a police officer, a distinction important in that it allowed prosecutors to try Haynes for capital murder and make him death-penalty eligible. Haynes' trial lawyers said he didn't know the man who approached was an officer and feared for his own safety.
One of the robbery victims earlier the evening of the shooting identified a companion of Haynes as participating in the holdup, and that led detectives to Haynes. He took police to separate sites miles apart where he left the gun and ammunition clip.