U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry initially stayed the execution early Tuesday, agreeing with Middleton's attorneys that he had demonstrated "a substantial threshold showing of insanity" that warranted a further court hearing. The U.S. Constitution forbids the execution of those with mental illness.
Perry's initial stay was overturned by a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis, but Perry later reinstated the stay -- only two hours before Middleton was scheduled to be killed via lethal injection.
"Although I recognize that the state, the families of the victims, and the public have a very legitimate interest in seeing executions carried out without unnecessary delay," Perry wrote in her followup decision, "the public also has a legitimate interest in having constitutional rights of convicted persons upheld."
The state attorney general's office was expected to once again appeal the decision. If the stay is lifted, the execution can be carried out any time before the death warrant expires Thursday at midnight. If the execution doesn't take place by then, the Missouri Supreme Court will be forced to schedule a new execution date.
Middleton was convicted and sentenced to death for three 1995 murders connected to the meth drug trade in rural Missouri. Middleton's attorneys had previously attempted to get a stay based on new evidence they say shows their client was 40 miles away when one of the murders took place. That petition was rejected without explanation by an appeals court.