HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- The Supreme Court, ruling twice in one day on the scheduled execution of condemned killer Raymond G. Riles, first denied him clemency then refused hours later to lift a stay granted by a lower court.
Riles was playing dominoes with a prison chaplain when he received news of the high court's decision sparing his life just after 10 p.m. Tuesday night -- two hours before he was to die by lethal injection for the slaying of a used-car dealer.
'He said, 'All right!' when he was told,' said Charles Brown, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Corrections.
Riles, 36, was convicted in 1975 of killing John Thomas Henry at his Houston used-car dealership during a $42 robbery the previous year.
U.S. District Judge Gabrielle McDonald of Houston issued a stay of execution Tuesday after defense lawyers argued that blacks convicted of killing whites are put to death more often than blacks who kill blacks. Riles is black and Henry was white.
The state first appealed McDonald's decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which rejected the motion within five minutes, and then to the Supreme Court, where it was turned down again.
Although prison officials reported Riles was elated with the news, Moslem prison chaplain Akbar Shabazz, who spent the day with Riles, said the condemned killer wanted to die.
'He said (he wanted to be executed) because it was a depressing state being on death row and he wanted this to be his last day,' Shabazz said. 'He wanted to get it over with. He thought he had repented his sins and been forgiven by God.'
Riles' last words were to be 'I bear witness there is no God but Allah,' Shabazz said.
Riles, like many black inmates on death row in Texas, is a converted Moslem.
He would have been the 19th person put to death in Texas since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1982 and the 66th nationwide since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on executions in 1976. He also would have been the ninth person executed in Texas this year, more than in any other state.
Earlier Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected a stay of execution requested by defense attorneys, who argued Riles is insane. The high court recently ruled an insane person cannot be put to death.
During his trial, Riles raved at the judge and prosecutor, calling them 'mad dogs,' and tore a courtroom doorjamb loose from its frame with his bare hands.
In May 1985, Riles suffered burns over 30 percent of his body when he piled Bibles, books and papers around himself in his death row cell and set them on fire.
Defense lawyer Will Gray argued that action -- and Riles's insistence that God killed Henry -- raised questions about the condemned man's sanity.
Riles had two previous execution dates stayed.