A federal appeals court on Sunday blocked the execution of man for a 1981 rape and murder, saying his lawyer’s incompetence raised a “grave question” about his guilt.
Thomas Martin Thompson, 42, was scheduled to be executed Tuesday by injection at San Quentin.
In its 7-4 decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Thompson’s rape conviction and death sentence by overturning an earlier ruling by its own 3-judge panel. The rape conviction was a “special circumstance” that enabled him to sentenced to death.
“The consequence of our failure to act would be the execution of a person as to whom a grave question exists whether he is innocent of the death-qualifying offense, the alleged rape, and whose conviction on the first-degree murder charge may be fundamentally flawed,” Judge Betty Fletcher wrote.
The court also said Thompson’s murder conviction needs further review. The state appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Thompson received the death sentence for the rape and murder in 1981 of Ginger Fleischli of Laguna Beach.