By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday halted the planned execution next month of a death row inmate whose lawyers argued he was sentenced to death based on tainted testimony from major witnesses.
The court stayed the Nov. 3 execution of Julius Murphy, without elaborating on its decision. Murphy, 36, was convicted in 1998 of fatally shooting Jason Erie in the head during a 1997 robbery.
Lawyers for Murphy asked the court last month to put the execution on hold, saying they had new evidence that pointed to evidence that prosecutors forced false testimony.
"Mr. Murphy’s conviction and death sentence were procured through prosecutorial misconduct," said Catherine Stetson, a lawyer for Murphy.
The Office of the Texas Attorney General was not immediately available for comment. It previously said Murphy was properly convicted.
Murphy's lawyers said prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of two witnesses, Javarrow Young and Christina Davis. The lawyers said they had sworn statements that show the two witnesses were unduly coerced into testimony and also provided false testimony.
The lawyers said Young was threatened with a murder charge if he did not testify against Murphy. In his new statement, Young said one of Murphy's co-defendants was the actual shooter.
The other witness was threatened with a conspiracy to commit murder charge if she did not testify, they said.
Lawyers for Murphy have tried unsuccessfully to halt the execution by arguing he was mentally disabled and that putting him to death would be unlawful.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Texas has executed 529 inmates, the most of any state.
The state has also instituted reforms in the judicial process in recent years designed to increase financing for public defenders and provide greater oversight of prosecutors.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)