Georgia Execution Halted

The Georgia Supreme Court today halted the execution of Alexander Williams while it considers whether death by electrocution constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Williams, scheduled to die in Georgia’s electric chair Thursday night, was 17 when he kidnapped 16-year-old Aleta Bunch from a mall, raped her, robbed her and shot her to death in Augusta in 1986.

Constitutional Question The Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of execution by electrocution in a separate case. Although today’s terse order gave no reason for the stay, two of the five justices who voted to grant the stay cited the constitutional question as a reason for their votes. Earlier in the day, Williams’ attorneys had asked the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to halt the execution on grounds that Williams — who has admitted to the crime — is mentally ill and his original lawyer was incompetent.

“We have given the board six separate and independent reasons which we believe supports our position,” attorney Harold T. Daniel said after the hearing, which was closed to the media. “The most important reason Alexander Williams should not be executed is that the crime of which he was convicted occurred when he was a minor.”

Other Hearing On Hold The board planned another hearing Wednesday to allow prosecutors, and possibly the victim’s family, to have their say. That hearing may now be put on hold because of the Supreme Court’s stay.

Supporters ranging from mental health advocates to religious leaders and former first lady Rosalynn Carter have sent letters to the board supporting Williams.

Williams, now 32, would have been the first person executed in Georgia in 2½ years and the 24th since the Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions in 1976. The pardons board has commuted the death sentences of six people in that time.