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Condemned Killer Donates Kidney to Mother

April 28, 1995 GMT

DOVER, Del. (AP) _ His own life due to end by lethal injection, a convicted murderer has given his mother the kidney she needs to survive.

Steven Shelton, his younger brother, Nelson, and a cousin were all sentenced to die for beating a man to death after an 18-hour drinking binge in 1992.

Nelson, who offered to donate his kidney first but was not a compatible donor, was executed in March. Steven, 29, was scheduled to die April 5, but he received a stay and appeals are pending.

Shelton’s kidney was removed Thursday at Wilmington Hospital and taken to his mother, Vesta Shelton, at Thomas Jefferson University Medical Center in Philadelphia. Shelton was in fair condition today; his 62-year-old mother was stable.

Shelton’s attorney, Joseph Gabay, said they have not discussed how the transplant might affect his case.

``Steven has been very enthusiastic about trying to assist his mother,″ Gabay said. ``This has been strictly an inner-family matter and the decision to do so has been strictly based upon wanting to, in some way, alleviate his mother’s condition.″

His medical costs are being covered by his mother’s insurance.

The transplant is not the first from a prison inmate to a relative. But officials at the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington and the United Network for Organ Sharing in Richmond, Va., knew of no other death row transplant cases.

In the 1970s, Florida death row inmate Shabaka Waglini, who was later found innocent and released, was prevented from donating a kidney to a relative, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project in Washington.

In 1992, a Florida court denied a request from Daniel Faries, who was serving a 34-year sentence, to give him the death penalty so he could donate his organs for transplants.

Diann Rust-Tierney of the ACLU said Shelton’s case points to a need to re-evaluate the death penalty. She said it shows that no matter how heinous the crime, condemned inmates are still part of ``the human community.″

If Shelton had been executed, his mother might not have found a compatible donor, she said.

``We’re talking about human beings who are connected to other people, where again, the punishment the state metes out has an impact on them,″ Rust-Tierney said.

A kidney transplant Mrs. Shelton received more than seven years ago started failing in November 1993. Last year, her deteriorating health forced her to quit her job as a lunch cook at a bar a few blocks from her Wilmington home.

Nelson Shelton was executed after refusing to file any appeals. His cousin, Jack F. Outten, is appealing.

When Nelson Shelton first asked to donate his kidney, corrections officials turned him down. But after threatening to file appeals and tie his case up in court for years, officials relented.

Once tests determined Nelson was an incompatible donor, the attention turned to Steven, who felt hurt when his mother told him about Nelson’s offer.

``He looked at me like all of a sudden he had lost his world,″ Mrs. Shelton said in an interview last October. ``He said, `Why didn’t you come to me, Mom?‴