Oct. 12, 2007— -- Four words -- "We close at 5" -- enforced by Texas judge Sharon Keller led to the almost immediate execution of convicted murderer Michael Richard.
Three hours after Keller refused to keep her courthouse open past closing time to receive the condemned killer's request to stay his execution, Richard was executed.
"If Sharon Keller had not slammed the door, Mr. Richard would still be alive," said Jim C. Harrington, director of Texas Defender Service .
Richard's attorney's computer broke down, and when they called the courthouse asking for a little more time, just 20 minutes more, Judge Keller ordered the court clerk not to wait for the appeal that could have at least temporarily stopped his execution.
After the execution, prominent defense attorneys from across Texas signed an official complaint against Keller, asking the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to disciplined or fire her.
"This execution proceeded because the highest criminal court couldn't be bothered to stay an extra 20 minutes on the night of an execution," said Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service.
It's not just the attorneys complaining. In a rare development, other judges on the appeals court -- three of whom stayed late in the courthouse waiting to rule on Richard's motion -- have criticized Keller's decision.
Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was expecting to rule on the case, told the Austin American-Statesman she was dismayed by Keller's decision. "And I was angry," she told the paper. "If I'm in charge of the execution, I ought to have known about those things … I mean this is a death."
Richard's appeal was not a surprise because the U.S. Supreme Court has let it be known that it would soon decide if lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. Until the Supreme Court rules, the death penalty is practically on hold in the United States.
Keller refused several ABC News requests for comment, but the judge did defend her actions in a Texas newspaper.
"I think the question ought to be why didn't they file something on time. They had all day," she told the Houston Chronicle.
Or at least until 5 p.m. and not a minute more -- even when life depended on it.