May 16, 2006

Tennessee governor halts planned execution

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Tennessee's governor gave
a 15-day reprieve on Tuesday to a convicted murderer just hours
before his scheduled execution for killing a female U.S.
Marine, giving his lawyers time to seek DNA testing they say
could exonerate him.

Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said he believed Sedley Alley
was guilty of the 1985 rape and murder of U.S. Marine Lance
Cpl. Suzanne Collins, but followed the recommendation of the
state's parole board to temporarily stay Alley's planned
Wednesday execution.

Collins, 19, was abducted, raped and killed while jogging
near a naval air station close to Memphis, Tennessee.

"Based on the overwhelming weight of the evidence against
him, I believe Mr. Alley to be guilty of this heinous crime.
However, I am acutely aware that in capital cases mistakes
cannot be corrected, and so out of respect for the Board's
recommendation, I am reluctantly issuing a reprieve for 15
days," Bredesen said in a statement.

The reprieve will give Alley's attorneys time to seek
permission from a state court to perform DNA tests, though
Bredesen said he expected prosecutors to oppose the request.

"If Mr. Alley cannot convince the courts to allow such
additional testing, or if such additional testing is performed
without clearly exonerating Mr. Alley, then the vast weight of
other evidence of his guilt will continue to prevail, and I
expect that a new execution date will be scheduled promptly,"
Bredesen said, adding it was not his job to decide the
appropriateness of DNA testing.

Alley, 50, had been scheduled to be executed by lethal
injection early on Wednesday at Riverbend Maximum Security
Institution near Nashville.

Alley's lawyers claim he could be exonerated if DNA tests
on Collins' underwear, swabs taken from her body and other
evidence from the crime scene implicate some other offender
whose DNA is on file.

Tennessee has executed one other inmate since 1960, Robert
Glen Coe in 2000. There have been 18 people executed in the
United States so far this year, and 1,022 since capital
punishment was reinstated in 1976.