The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

November 8, 2012

Federal appeals court stops inmate's execution

HARRISBURG —

A federal appeals court stopped the execution of a Pennsylvania inmate Thursday, hours before he was scheduled to be put to death for shooting to death a teenage hitchhiker nearly two decades ago.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case of Hubert Lester Michael Jr. back to a district court judge for additional proceedings.

Michael had faced a 7 p.m. execution by lethal injection for the 1993 killing of 16-year-old Trista Elizabeth Eng in York County.

He would have been the first person executed in the state since 1999, the fourth in the past quarter century and the only one in the past 50 years who had not voluntarily given up on his appeals.

A statement released by his defense lawyers welcomed the decision and said their client has "compelling legal claims which have never been reviewed by any court." The attorney general's office declined to comment.

The circuit court panel directed the district court to address, among other things, whether Michael's appeal should be considered a successive petition that is subject to stricter rules, whether "extraordinary circumstances" existed and whether a district court proceeding is needed to consider the merits of Michael's claims.

Since he was sentenced to death, Michael had abandoned his appeals but later resumed a legal fight, saying he had been confined under circumstances at Graterford State Prison that worsened mental health problems. Those problems got better after he was transferred to Greene State Prison, his lawyers have argued.

In a filing Thursday, the attorney general's office said Michael is pursuing a "successive" federal appeal that is subject to more strict court rules.

"Michael's entire argument was that, since the time of his voluntary waiver, the circumstances of his confinement have improved and effected some concomitant amelioration of his spirit. He has developed relationships ... and he has changed his mind," prosecutors wrote. "Even if true, this argument is in no way similar to a complaint of error at the district court proceeding based on failure to exhaust, procedural default, or the relevant statute of limitations."

Pennsylvania has just over 200 people on death row, the fourth most of any state after California, Texas and Florida.

The lack of executions has been attributed to a number of factors and debated for years in the state's legal circles. Prosecutors claim an anti-death penalty bias on the part of appeals judges, while defense attorneys note many of the sentences have been proved to be flawed and overturned on legitimate legal grounds.

Michael pleaded guilty to murdering Eng after kidnapping her in York County. At a 1997 hearing, his former public defender testified that Michael told him how he picked up the girl hitchhiking, bound her with electrical cord stolen from her home, raped her and killed her on state game land.

He was not charged with rape because of a lack of physical evidence, though prosecutors suspected it. Michael confessed to his brother, who located her remains about a month after she disappeared and called police. She had been shot in the head and chest.

At Wednesday's pardons board hearing, the victim's mother, Suzanne Eng, set the tone for relatives and friends who made emotional pleas to keep the execution on track.

"He kidnapped her, he raped her and then he executed her," the mother said. "As she begged him not to kill her, he shot her three times."

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
State News
  • PennDOT pushes ‘Yellow Dot’ vehicle stickers

    It’s the car sticker that could save your life.
    PennDOT’s “Yellow Dot” program has been around for several years, said Daniel Zakraysek, coordinator of the Cambria Allegheny Regional Highway Safety Network.

    July 28, 2014

  • Remembering elephant’s rampage

    The circus elephant paced the landing outside the Jaffa Mosque in Altoona.
    Police formed an uneasy line around the perimeter of the venue’s lawn, rifles at the ready.
    It was a cloudy, cold day in April 1993, and Tyke the elephant had just run around the circus ring, slapped a baboon and burst through a building’s front door, tearing off part of the wall above the door.

    July 28, 2014

  • State briefs 7/29/2014

    July 28, 2014

  • TSA finds gun, ammo in Pittsburgh airport carry-on

    The Transportation Security Administration says it found a pistol and ammunition in man’s carry-on bag as he passed through security at Pittsburgh International Airport.

    July 28, 2014

  • Youth pastor fired, jailed after teen-sex charges

    A youth pastor has been fired by a western Pennsylvania church and jailed on charges he performed sex acts with a 15-year-old girl in their church building.

    July 28, 2014

  • Luksik, Peg Independent hopefuls may widen gubernatorial field

    Just when Pennsylvania voters were getting used to the idea of a gubernatorial election showdown between Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, other hopefuls may soon be joining the fray. Johnstown resident Peg Luksik, who twice ran for governor as the Constitutional Party nominee, knows what it's like.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Scaife remembered for strong convictions

    At a weekend memorial service, publisher Richard Mellon Scaife was remembered by the archbishop of Washington as someone who had the courage to stand “for things that mattered.”

    July 27, 2014

  • DePasquale Auditor: More Marcellus Shale well inspectors needed

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the past century.
    But boom times in the Marcellus Shale are bringing online thousands more wells that use a complicated process requiring more careful oversight.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Strained relationship between Corbett, Legislature not new

    Poking and prodding the Legislature to act on pension reform, Gov. Tom Corbett urged lawmakers to shorten their summer break and come back to the Capitol early.
    It’s a modest victory. The House will return to session Aug. 4, instead of the middle of September. And there’s little hint that lawmakers intend to knock themselves out trying to satisfy the governor.

    July 26, 2014

  • Wolf: Wealthy should pay more to cut school taxes

    Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf would make a centerpiece of his first budget proposal an increase in income taxes on Pennsylvania’s higher-earners to help expand the state’s share of public education funding in exchange for a dollar-for-dollar reduction in local property taxes levied by school boards.

    July 26, 2014

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads