Texas inmate gets stay of execution amid coronavirus outbreak

A cold-blooded killer facing execution in Texas has been bought some time on Earth because of the coronavirus.

John Hummel, convicted of butchering his pregnant wife and beating his father-in-law to death with a baseball bat, has been granted a 60-day stay of his execution by Texas’ top appeals court, the Washington Examiner reported Wednesday. The court rejected Hummel’s appeal to have his execution canceled over COVID-19, but he won a delay over the “current health crisis and the enormous resources needed to address that emergency,” according to the Examiner.

Execution delayed over COVID-19

According to CBS News, Hummel was convicted in 2011 for brutally murdering his 45-year-old wife, Joy, with samurai swords and a medieval knife, and fatally beating of his father-in-law, 57-year-old Clyde Bedford, with a baseball bat. He was also suspected of beating his 5-year-old daughter to death, CBS noted. Hummel ended this pure evil crime spree by burning down their home in the suburbs of Fort Worth.

He had been facing death Wednesday afternoon when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a 60-day stay on his execution Monday, citing COVID-19. The Tarrant County court will set a new date when that period is over, according to the Examiner.

Hummel’s lawyers had tried to use the coronavirus as an excuse to have his execution canceled altogether, claiming that it would be dangerous to have witnesses of the execution crowded together in the death chamber, CBS reported. The court rejected all of his arguments, but nevertheless suspended his punishment for the time being.

“Gathering all these people in one location presents a substantial risk of transmission of COVID-19/Coronavirus if anyone is infected,” Hummel’s lawyer, Michael Mowla, argued last week, according to CBS.

Prosecutors say that Hummel killed his family so he could pursue a relationship with a woman he met at a convenience store, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. They argued unsuccessfully against the motion of stay, saying that COVID-19 did not pose any meaningful obstacles to the execution.

Coronavirus holiday for criminals?

In just weeks, COVID-19 has infected more than 11,000 Americans and killed over 150, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker. The deadly pandemic is upending life for countless people and promises to overwhelm institutions from hospital systems to prison facilities.

Indeed, prisons around the country from Los Angeles to New York have started or plan to start releasing some inmates to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading through their populations, the New York Post has reported. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will begin letting at-risk prisoners at facilities like Rikers Island go after an inmate and prison staffer both tested positive for the virus, the Post noted.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County has already released some 600 low-risk offenders, according to NBC News. In Iran, one of the world’s worst coronavirus hotspots, some 85,000 inmates have been released, Fox News reports.

Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, hailed the decision to stay Hummel’s punishment in the midst of the outbreak. “Clearly, we are in unprecedented situation with the global pandemic. I am glad that more reasonable heads prevailed and realized the gross inappropriateness of carrying out an execution in such an unprecedented time in the world,” she said, according to the Star-Tribune.

But as many Americans face layoffs or furloughs, for others, COVID-19 is turning out to be something of a holiday. This all raises an interesting question: in times like this, is it acceptable to put justice on hold?

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