Va. governor rejects bid to halt inmate's execution

AP News
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Posted: Sep 28, 2015 8:14 PM
Va. governor rejects bid to halt inmate's execution

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday denied a last-minute attempt to delay the execution of a convicted serial killer who says that his life should be spared because he is intellectually disabled.

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in this week, Alfredo Prieto will be the first Virginia inmate to be executed in nearly three years Thursday.

Prieto's attorneys had asked the Democratic governor to grant a temporary reprieve of his execution so he could be transferred to California, where they hoped to argue that he's ineligible for the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled.

But McAuliffe said Monday that he won't intervene in the case, noting that state and federal appellate courts have already reviewed and denied the prisoner's request for relief.

"It is the Governor's responsibility to ensure that the laws of the Commonwealth are properly carried out unless circumstances merit a stay or commutation of the sentence," McAuliffe said in a statement. "After extensive review and deliberation, I have found no such circumstances, and have thus decided that this execution will move forward."

The El Salvador native was already facing execution in California for raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl when a Virginia jury sentenced him to death in 2010 for the 1988 killings of Rachael Raver and her boyfriend, Warren Fulton III. California officials agreed to send him to Virginia based on the rationale that Virginia was more likely to carry out the execution.

Authorities have said DNA and ballistics evidence have linked Prieto to several other killings in California and Virginia but he was never prosecuted because he had already been sentenced to death.

Rob Lee, one of Prieto's attorney's, called McAuliffe's decision "profoundly disappointing." He said in an email that it goes against past governors' efforts "to ensure that every time the most severe and final sanction is carried out in Virginia, it is done fairly."

Matthew Raver, Rachael Raver's brother, said Prieto's seemingly endless efforts to delay his execution have felt like "salt in the wound" for the victim's family, which remains devastated by Rachael Raver's death nearly three decades later. Matthew Raver plans to attend the execution at the Greensville Correctional Center.

"I look forward to it as a relief that this individual ... and all his games, his plotting, his violence has ended," Matthew Raver said.

Prieto's exposure to violence in war-ravaged El Salvador and a lack of proper nutrition because his family was poor contributed to "significant brain dysfunction" that affected his ability to think abstractly and control his impulses, Ricardo Weinstein, a psychologist who evaluated Prieto at the defense's request, said during his trial in 2007.

As a child, Prieto struggled with learning and was quiet and withdrawn, often sitting alone and "staring blankly at nothing," Prieto's attorneys said last week in their request to McAuliffe to delay the execution. They want Prieto to return to California, where they believe he can receive a "full and fair" assessment of his intellectual disability.

A federal appeals court in Virginia ruled in June that Prieto failed to prove that no reasonable juror would find him eligible for execution, saying that Prieto's ability to handle everyday tasks was "at best inconclusive."

Psychologists testifying for the prosecution noted that Prieto was well-spoken, bilingual and analytical. But Prieto's attorneys and advocates for people with intellectual disabilities say his cognitive strengths are irrelevant.

"You shouldn't discard the idea that someone has an intellectual disability just because they have a girlfriend or a job," Rob Lee said.

Prieto's lawyers have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether it will hear the case. Prieto has also asked the justices to rule on the constitutionality of Virginia's policy of automatically placing death row inmates in solitary confinement.

With 110 executions, Virginia ranks third in the nation for the number carried out since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Prieto is one of eight inmates on death row.

But the state hasn't executed an inmate since January 2013, when Robert Gleason Jr. was put to death in the state's electric chair, which inmates can choose over lethal injection. Gleason had been serving a life in prison for a 2007 murder when he killed his cellmate in 2009.

Since Prieto didn't make a choice, the state will use a lethal three-drug combination.

The first drug will be pentobarbital, which Virginia obtained from Texas because its supply of midazolam expires on Wednesday, said Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. Virginia recently approved the use of midazolam — a controversial drug used in a botched execution in Oklahoma last year — but has never used it.

Death penalty opponents, who have been pressing McAuliffe to call off the execution, plan to hold vigils at 10 locations across the state Thursday evening.

Dede Raver, Rachael Raver's sister, said she believes Prieto's execution will help her and others who were affected by the killings to close a long and painful chapter in their lives.

"I have no interest in taking someone's life away, but honestly I feel like Prieto will return to hell," she said. "This man is so evil and he has no regard for human life."

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Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin