US delays death of German murderer

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The Independent Online
THE execution of a German national convicted of murder by the state of Arizona was further delayed yesterday after a court objected to the use of the gas chamber because it was "cruel and unusual".

Less than an hour before Walter LaGrand, 37, was to die in the gas chamber, a United States federal court ruled that while it was turning down his plea for clemency, he could not be executed by that method.

Walter LaGrand was due to make the final stage of his journey to the gas chamber after a prolonged and painful process that has seen his chances of survival rise, then collapse, and now rise again.

Despite the state having switched to lethal injection since they were convicted, both he and his brother had chosen the gas chamber hoping that it might help their appeal, based on the US constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. That tactic seemed to have worked last night with the delay expected to last weeks.

LaGrand, 37, was born in Germany, and the German authorities contended that international rules on his access to the consul had been broken. He was the subject of an appeal from the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, a state clemency panel and the World Court. His brother, Karl, was executed last week. The two were found guilty of stabbing a bank manager to death in 1982 during an abortive bank robbery.

The German government had complained that it was unaware until 1992 that the two were German nationals: they were born there, though they came to the US when very young. But the German embassy said yesterday that Arizona's governor, Jane Hull, believed the execution was in the interests of the victims.

"Because of domestic political reasons the state of Arizona has a different view of the legal situation than the German government," the German ambassador, Jurgen Chrobog, said. The death penalty is "very popular" in Arizona, he said.

The World Court in The Hague asked the United States to delay the execution while it considered a German complaint, but US feelings about the World Court are at best ambiguous and at worst dismissive.