By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona's highest court has put on hold the execution scheduled for Wednesday of an apartment complex custodian set to die for the 1984 rape and murder of a 13-year-old newspaper delivery girl.
Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch of the Arizona State Supreme Court issued the temporary stay late on Tuesday after the state substituted a controversial drug to be used to execute Donald Edward Beaty by lethal injection.
Defense attorneys objected to the last-minute substitution of the sedative pentobarbital in place of the widely used sodium thiopental in the three-drug cocktail used in the execution, the court said.
A hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. local time on the issue. Death warrants last for 24 hours and Beaty still could be put to death.
Arizona switched the sedative Tuesday after federal officials charged the state did not fill out a form needed to bring the drug into the country.
Sodium thiopental, which renders the prisoner unconscious, has been at the center of a debate over appropriate execution drugs. Supplies have become scarce in the United States, and efforts to buy stocks overseas have stirred controversy and been turned down flat by some manufacturers.
Beaty, 56, spent nearly 16 years on Arizona's death row for snatching Christy Ann Fornoff while she was collecting on her newspaper route and killing her in his apartment, in what was one of the state's more sensational criminal cases.
In last-ditch appeals, Beaty's lawyers unsuccessfully maintained his life should be spared because he did not have effective legal representation during his trial. They argued that his original lawyer should have presented evidence that Beaty was himself a victim of physical abuse as a child.
On the evening of May 9, 1984, authorities said Fornoff was making the rounds with subscribers to the afternoon newspaper as her mother waited outside the Rock Point Apartments in Tempe, Arizona. That was the last time the mother would see her alive.
Beaty sexually assaulted the girl and suffocated her, keeping the body inside his apartment for two days, according to court records. She was found wrapped in a sheet behind a dumpster at the apartment complex.
Physical evidence found at the scene linked Beaty to the death, including blood and hair samples, as well as fibers taken from Fornoff's body, which matched those from Beaty's carpet and blanket, court records show.
But a jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of a guilty verdict in March 1985.
Three months later, a jury convicted Beaty of murder and sexual assault after a psychologist testified that Beaty confessed to the killing in a group therapy session.
He was to be the second inmate executed in Arizona this year. The state has executed 25 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1992.
Eighteen people have been executed in the United States so far this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Jerry Norton)