Convicted murderer Sedley Alley died by lethal injection early this morning at the state's Riverbend Maximum Security Prison. Prison officials said he was pronounced dead at 2:12 a.m.
Alley's fate had hung precariously in the balance for much of the evening as his 1 a.m. execution time approached. At 7:55 p.m. Tuesday night, the last of his appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court were turned down.
For months, Alley had pursued appeals with support from famed attorney Barry Scheck's "Innocence Project." His attorneys argued that DNA evidence might prove his innocence, as it had been unavailable at his original trial, but the state argued against all efforts to compel testing of the evidence. The office of Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers prevailed in a number of court challenges on this issue.
Following the Supreme Court's refusal to take the case, defense lawyers Kelley Henry and Paul Bottei of the Office of the Federal Public Defender hand-carried an appeal to the home of Gil Merritt, a senior judge on the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals who lives near Nashville. Merritt issued a stay, stating in a handwritten note that he would explain his reasoning in a subsequent order.
Other jurists from the appeals court were soon called in, however. The state sought a lifting of the stay, and 6th Circuit Chief Judge Danny J. Boggs and Judge James Leo Ryan, both appointed by President Ronald Reagan, issued a ruling to vacate the stay entered by Merritt, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter.
"Passing over the question of the seemliness of a single circuit judge taking under consideration a matter for which the district courts" have jurisdiction, the judges wrote, "the standards for a stay of execution have even less been met at this time" than when the court had considered Alley's case before.