An unusual court hearing on the constitutionality of the death penalty in Texas was put on hold Tuesday after the state's highest criminal court granted a request by prosecutors to stop it.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered that the hearing be temporarily halted so prosecutors and defense attorneys can file motions on whether the legal proceeding should be allowed to continue.
The hearing, which began Monday and was set to last up to two weeks, had been ordered by a state district judge in Houston.
District Judge Kevin Fine last spring initially declared the Texas death penalty statute unconstitutional after granting a motion in a capital murder case he is presiding over. Under heavy criticism, Fine clarified then rescinded his ruling and ordered the hearing, saying he needed to hear evidence on the issue.
Fine is a judge in Harris County, which has sent more inmates to the lethal-injection gurney than any other county in the nation.
Lawyers for the Houston man who had asked for the hearing had already presented two days of testimony on whether problems with such things as eyewitness identification and evidence offered by informants have created flaws in death penalty prosecutions in Texas and resulted in a risk that innocent people will be executed. They said their client, John Edward Green Jr., is innocent and the case against him uses some of the same faulty evidentiary procedures that have resulted in others being wrongly convicted. Green, who is awaiting trial, faces a possible death sentence if convicted of fatally shooting a Houston woman during a June 2008 robbery.