Briton's plea against execution fails

Nick Ingram saw the outside world for the first time in 8 years yesterday. Tonight he faces the electric chair. Rupert Cornwell reports
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The Independent Online
A manacled and drawn Nick Ingram yesterday sat in court to hear his lawyers make a vain attempt to reopen his case and save him from dying in Georgia's electric chair at 7pm tonight (midnight BST).

State Judge Hal Craig rejected a plea for a stay of execution and a new trial after a two-hour hearing. Ingram's lawyers were last night in Atlanta making a final plea for a reprieve to Georgia's Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The Board members will deliberate in secret before announcing a decision, expected by mid-morning today. If they let the execution go forward, only last-ditch appeals for a stay to the Georgia and US Supreme Courts stand in the way of Ingram, 31, dying in the chair tonight at the state's Diagnostic and Classification Center.

During yesterday's hearing before Judge Craig, Ingram listened intently as his defence team, led by Clive Stafford Smith, argued for a stay of execution and a new trial. His mother and other relatives were in the front row. "We are not arguing for his innocence, or that the verdict be overturned, we are asking merely for the merits of this case to be heard," Mr Stafford Smith said.

According to Ingram's lawyers, the jury at his 1983 trial was "materially misled" because Ingram was under heavy sedation from the drug Thorazine. This had "prevented him from showing his remorse and concern" to the court, Mr Stafford Smith said.

Thin, and with eyes darting anxiously, Ingram exchanged words with his lawyers. His hands and legs were held with chains, fastened to a belt around his waist. He was dressed in white prison garb with a dark-blue collar, and dark stripes down his legs denoting a death-row prisoner. Five armed prison guards sat a few feet away.

Ingram was convicted in November 1983 of murder, robbery and assault for the killing of JC Sawyer, 55. He also shot Mr Sawyer's widow, Eunice, in the head but she survived and identified Ingram at his trial. He has claimed he blacked out after a drunken binge on the day of the murder and had no idea of what happened.

In a House of Commons written reply last night, John Major again insisted there were no grounds for the Government to intervene. He said: "My own views on capital punishment are well-known. However, after careful consideration I am advised there are no proper grounds for the British Government to intervene."

Fifty-three Labour MPs yesterday signed a motion urging the US Supreme Court to stay Ingram's execution, arguing that keeping him on death row for 12 years and executing him by electrocution "greatly exceeds the barbarity of the crime he is alleged to have committed." The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles said it would take the MPs' views into account.

Yesterday's court appearance was the first time in eight years Ingram had seen the world outside prison walls. Mr Stafford Smith said, "Nicky didn't want to be there, he wanted to be spending as much time as he could with his family."

After the 90-minute Board hearing in Atlanta, attended by Ingram's parents, three brothers and sister, Mr Stafford Smith said proceedings had been "very patient, very pleasant". He was confident the Board would "do the right thing". However in only six of its 23 capital hearings since 1977 has the Board opted for clemency.

If it does let the execution go ahead, Ingram's lawyers plan a last, albeit pro-forma, round of appeals today, to the Georgia Supreme Court, to federal courts and finally to the US Supreme court itself.

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