Last-minuteappeal halts execution

A man set to be executed Friday in South Carolina was issued a stay minutes before he was to die in the electric chair, triggering a flurry of legal moves by the state as it sought to carry out the death sentence.

James Earl Reed had been scheduled to die at 6 p.m. A federal judge in Columbia issued the stay at 5:40 p.m. after a defense attorney's last-minute request.

Prisons spokesman Josh Gelinas said state lawyers then filed a motion with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., to vacate the stay and also filed the same motion with the U.S. Supreme Court in case they were successful at the lower level and challenged again.

“We are at the mercy of the courts,” Gelinas said.

Even if state attorneys got the stay lifted Friday night, the state might have to reschedule the execution because it had to be carried out by midnight.

Reed, 49, has been on death row since 1996, when he was convicted of murdering Joseph and Barbara Lafayette in their Charleston County home two years earlier. Prosecutors said he was looking for an ex-girlfriend.

During his trial, Reed fired his attorney and represented himself, denying the killings despite a confession and arguing that no physical evidence placed him at the scene. Jurors found him guilty and decided he should die.