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Pinkerton Gets Stay 26 Minutes Before Scheduled Execution

August 15, 1985

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution today for convicted murderer Jay Kelly Pinkerton, 26 minutes before he was to be put to death for the rape and mutilation of a mother of three.

Pinkerton, a 23-year-old meat cutter from Amarillo, was waiting in a holding cell only a few feet from the death chamber when Warden Jack Pursley told him the execution had been blocked.

″Thank you,″ Pinkerton said and shook Pursley’s hand. He was to be taken back to his Death Row cell at the Ellis Unit, 13 miles away.

He would have been the youngest inmate executed since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976.

″We were of the opinion that a stay probably wouldn’t be granted,″ Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox said in announcing the decision the high court handed down just after midnight in Washington.

″We looked at the issues and didn’t see any meritorious issues.″

Pinkerton, a convicted burglar with a history of juvenile crime, was sentenced to die by injection shortly after midnight Wednesday for the Oct. 26, 1979, rape and slaying of Sarah Donn Lawrence, 30, who was stabbed repeatedly and mutilated while her children, ages 4 through 8, slept in another room.

He also was sentenced to death for a similar mutilation slaying five months later, of Sherry Welch, 25, a former beauty queen.

″It figures,″ Mrs. Lawrence’s mother, Virginia Royer of Lubbock, said after learning of the stay. ″I was afraid this would happen. But maybe it was God’s will.″

″Oh, why?″ Mrs. Welch’s father, Joe Hales asked. ″My wife and I are really hurting. I just can’t believe the law goes that way.″

The Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision came two days after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans refused to block the execution.

″We were not surprised,″ Margie Pinkerton, the prisoner’s mother, said. ″We felt he would get it all along.″

Mattox said five justices halted the execution because of questions raised about Pinkerton’s trial lawyers and allegations that information from a jail cellmate was illegally used against him.

″We had hoped the Supreme Court had a means of acting faster. But we have not been able to do that,″ he said.

Pinkerton’s was one of four executions scheduled this week. All were blocked.

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