US prisoner escapes execution as deadline passes with appeal pending

©Agence France-Presse

Christopher Lee Price, 46, and an accomplice were found guilty of stabbing Bill Lynn to death in 1991

Washington (AFP) - A prisoner sentenced for murdering a Pentecostal pastor 27 years ago in the southern US state of Alabama was spared death Thursday because final approval for his execution arrived too late.

Christopher Lee Price, 46, had been sentenced to die by lethal injection at 6:00 pm (2300 GMT) Thursday, but his attorneys challenged the state's execution process and his case went to the US Supreme Court.

The death warrant expired at midnight, and the Supreme Court's decision allowing the execution to proceed came only at 2:00 am Friday, local media reported.

"This evening, the state of Alabama witnessed a miscarriage of justice," Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement.

Price and an accomplice were found guilty of the December 1991 slaying of Church of Christ pastor Bill Lynn.

Price's attorneys requested that their client be executed by forced inhalation of nitrogen, a method deemed less painful than lethal injection. 

Nitrogen inhalation, used for slaughtering animals, causes death by hypoxia, or lack of oxygen.

Alabama and a handful of US states approved this method in 2018 to address the shortage of components needed for lethal injections, but has yet to put it into practice.

But the state refused, and Price's lawyer's filed a final legal petition on Thursday presenting a new study supporting their arguments.

By mid-afternoon, a federal judge in Alabama ruled that Price's execution should be postponed for 60 days to study the merits of the case. 

Alabama immediately appealed, lost, and then the case went to the Supreme Court, which finally issued an approval in a split 5-4 decision.