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Federal judge stays execution of Texas death row prisoner

Federal judge stays execution of Texas death row prisoner
Stephen Barbee was sentenced to death for the murders of Lisa Underwood and her son, Jayden. File Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Oct. 8 (UPI) -- A federal judge has stayed next week's scheduled execution of a Texas man convicted of murdering a pregnant woman and her 7-year-old son in 2005.

Stephen Barbee, 54, was set to receive the lethal injection Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt issued his ruling Thursday. The judge in the Southern District of Texas stayed the execution on religious grounds.

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Barbee's lawyers said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice violated their client's religious rights by not allowing his spiritual adviser to make physical contact with him during the lethal injection.

The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of another Texas death row prisoner, John Ramirez, last month after he also was refused the ability to have his spiritual adviser lay hands on him during his execution.

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Texas prison officials have argued that allowing a spiritual adviser in the death chamber could threaten the procedure.

Two years ago, the TDCJ banned chaplains from entering the state's execution chambers after the Supreme Court stayed an execution because the state declined to allow an inmate to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser with him in the death chamber.

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The state lifted the ban in April, revising its policy to allow death row prisoners to designate a corrections chaplain or other spiritual adviser of their choosing to be present inside the death chamber.

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Less than a week after their deaths, Barbee led Fort Worth, Texas, police to the bodies of Lisa Underwood, 34, and her son, Jayden, 7, in a remote area north of the city. Investigators said Barbee told them he had been romantically involved with Underwood and believed her unborn child might be his and could cause problems with his marriage to another woman.

Both died of suffocation.

Barbee later recanted his confession and says he's innocent of the murders.

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