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Federal judge halts execution of Alabama death row inmate

Temporary reprieve: Alabama was scheduled to put to death Jeffery Lynn Borden, 56, Thursday night for the 1993 murders of his estranged wife, Cheryl Borden, and her father, Roland Borden, but a federal judge halted the execution

In a last-minute decision, a federal judge halted the execution of an Alabama inmate just hours before he was to be put to death for the 1993 murders of his estranged wife and father-in-law.

Chief US District Judge Keith Watkins on Thursday afternoon stayed the execution of 56-year-old Jeffery Lynn Borden. The reprieve came about four hours before Borden was set to be given a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison.

Watkins noted that the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals this month ordered additional proceedings in Borden’s challenge to the humaneness of the state’s lethal injection process.

The Alabama attorney general’s office said it would not appeal the stay. The attorney general said there was ‘insufficient time to lift the stay’ before the death warrant expired at midnight. 

The state will have to reschedule the execution for another time.  

Borden was convicted of killing Cheryl Harris Borden and her father, Roland Harris, in Gardendale, Alabama, on Christmas Eve in 1993. 

Borden, who was separated from his wife, was returning their three children to the Christmas Eve gathering after a weeklong visit with him. Prosecutors said he shot Cheryl Borden in the back of the head in front of the children as she helped move their Christmas gifts and clothing and then repeatedly shot Harris as he ran for help.

A jury recommended the death penalty by a 10-2 vote.

The US Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted an appellate court injunction that had been blocking Borden’s execution.

Borden’s attorney, John Palombi, made a last-minute bid for another stay, noting the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals this month had ordered more proceedings in Borden’s challenge to the humaneness of Alabama’s lethal injection procedure. 

Palombi said Borden won his appeal, but the state was trying to ‘moot out his complaint’ by executing him.

‘The state can have no interest in carrying out its judgment using a method of execution that is the subject to a serious challenge to its constitutionality,’ Palombi wrote in an emergency motion filed in Montgomery federal court.

Borden and other inmates have challenged the state’s use of the sedative midazolam at the start of executions, saying it would not reliably render them unconscious before other drugs stop their lungs and heart. 

Palombi wrote that the second drug, a paralytic to stop breathing, would make Borden would feel like he was being ‘buried alive’ and then the third drug, potassium chloride, ‘would cause a massive heart attack after burning him alive from the inside.’

The Alabama attorney general’s office has argued the US Supreme Court has allowed four executions to proceed with the same drug combination, and that Borden presents nothing new that would justify a stay. 

They said Borden was now seeking a ‘second bite at the apple.’  

The state attorney general’s urged the federal court to let the execution proceed.

‘The State and the surviving victims – particularly Cheryl Borden’s children who witnessed this barbaric crime – have a strong interest in seeing Borden’s lawful sentence be carried out,’ state attorneys wrote.

Cheryl and Jeffery’s oldest child, a son, was 11 years old at the time. He later testified at his father’s murder trial, describing for the jury the moment he saw his mother collapse to the ground after being shot.   

Cheryl Borden’s sister Connie told earlier Thursday that their sibling Cindi was planning to attend their former brother-in-law’s execution and argued that today should be about getting justice for their murdered sister and their father, not securing a stay of execution for their killer.

‘We have to ask, what happened to my sister and father getting a stay of execution?’ Connie Harris asked. ‘There is no punishment too cruel for what he [Jeffery Borden] did to my family.’