By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the planned Wednesday execution of Bernardo Tercero, a Nicaraguan man convicted of murder who human rights groups said had his rights to fair trial violated.
The court said on Tuesday lawyers for Tercero, 39, asserted that he was denied due legal process because the state presented false testimony at his trial. It stayed his execution to allow "a trial court to review the merits of the claim."
The court did not specify the testimony it saw as questionable. In a filing before the court, one of Tercero's lawyers said a statement provided by a witness for the prosecution that implicated Tercero had contained false information.
Tercero was convicted of killing Houston school teacher Robert Berger during a robbery of a dry-cleaning shop in 1997.
There was also a co-defendant who the state said fled to Mexico. Reports indicate he was indicted in absentia but has never been arrested or tried.
Tercero's lawyers have argued he had deficient counsel at trial and sentencing and at every stage of his post-conviction proceedings.
They have also argued that he may be mentally ill and not meet legal competency standards to be subject to execution.
"The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did the right thing by staying Mr. Tercero's execution,” said Melissa Hooper, a Human Rights First lawyer who has been seeking the stay.
"Many questions remain in this case, and now the court will allow at least some of them to finally be investigated," she said.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)