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February 27, 2014

Judge stays execution

JOHNSTOWN — A quarter of a century after Stephen Rex Edmiston was convicted of the brutal murder of a 2-year-old girl, his April 16 scheduled execution has been put on hold because his rights of appeal have not been exhausted.

The stay was granted by U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson in Johnstown at the request of attorney Robert Dunham, assistant federal public defender for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

Dunham could not be reached for comment late Thursday, but his petition to the federal court listed the stay as unopposed by state prosecutors.

Deputy Attorney General James P. Barker, who is handling the prosecution’s case, could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

The eight-page petition seeking the stay outlined the appeals process locally and through the state Superior Court and the state Supreme Court.

It notes that on April 24, 2013, the state’s highest court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Edmiston’s claims and the case moved to the federal level, according to Dunham.

On Nov. 18, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept for review Edmiston’s appeal, and two weeks later the parties moved to reactivate the federal habeas corpus proceedings.

Dunham, in his petition, said Edmiston still has a right though the federal court to raise federal issues.

“The state or federal courts have granted stays to every death row inmate who has sought to pursue post-conviction review of right in the face of such mandatory death warrants,” the petition to the federal court states.

In requesting the stay, Dunham said: “Mr. Edmiston has initiated habeas review, filed a habeas petition and intends to vindicate his right to full federal review of his first ... petition.”

“He therefore requests that this court enter a stay of execution ... to prevent the legally premature death warrant issued by (the governor) from interfering with counsel’s ability to meaningfully litigate his petition.”

A status conference was requested and is scheduled for April 2 in federal court.

Gov. Tom Corbett a week ago signed Edmiston’s death warrant and scheduled the execution to be carried out in mid-April at SCI-Rockview in Centre County.

Edmiston, now 55, was convicted in 1989 by a Cambria County jury for the 1988 murder of Bobbi Jo Matthew, a toddler he took during the night from a home in Beccaria Township, Clearfield County.

The child’s body was found two days later in a remote area of Reade Township in northeastern Cambria County.

Edmiston maintained his innocence at his trial. But state police testified that he drew a map with an X marking the location where, he said, “You’ll find a dead, raped, little girl.”

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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