Arizona to execute man convicted in 1986 murder, rape

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 27, 2012 10:45 AM
Arizona to execute man convicted in 1986 murder, rape

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A convicted murderer who challenged the fairness of Arizona's clemency board and won a temporary reprieve is set to be executed on Wednesday for raping, beating and stabbing a woman to death in 1986.

Samuel Villegas Lopez, 49, is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 10 a.m. local time inside the state prison in Florence, about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix, an Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman said.

He was sentenced to death in 1987 for raping Estafana Holmes, 59, and stabbing her to death in a violent, drawn-out assault at her Phoenix apartment on October 29, 1986.

Authorities found her body with her eyes blindfolded with her pajama pants and her mouth stuffed tightly with a lace scarf. She was naked from the waist down and had been stabbed 23 times in the chest and three times in the abdomen.

During questioning several days later on an unrelated matter, court records show that Lopez asked about a woman who had been stabbed and had her throat slashed. Information about the victim's throat being cut had not been publicly released by police.

His fingerprints and bodily fluids also matched those found at the scene, records show.

He was convicted of first-degree murder, sexual assault, kidnapping and burglary.

Lopez won a temporary reprieve on May 15 after successfully arguing that he would not get a fair hearing from the state Board of Executive Clemency as some members had not completed their training.

The Arizona Supreme Court ordered a temporary stay so that the board members could complete a mandatory four-week training course.

He then sought a second stay arguing that Republican Governor Jan Brewer had appointed "political cronies" to the board, making a fair hearing impossible, which was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

On Friday, the clemency board unanimously rejected his bid to have his sentence commuted to life in prison or receive a reprieve.

Lopez would be the fourth Arizona inmate to be executed this year and the 32nd since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1992. Twenty-two people have been executed in the United States this year, the Death Penalty Information Center said.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Will Dunham)