The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday stopped the scheduled execution of convicted killer Bobby Wayne Woods after lawyers raised new claims that the 42-year-old man is mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty.
Woods had been set to die Thursday evening for the 1997 slaying of his ex-girlfriend's 11-year-old daughter after abducting her and her brother from their home in Granbury.
Woods said he wasn't responsible for Sarah Patterson's death and blamed it on a cousin who subsequently committed suicide. He said injuries to her 9-year-old brother, Cody, were the result of an accident.
Woods would have been the second Texas prisoner executed this week and 13th this year. Two more men face execution next week in the country's most active death penalty state.
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The state's highest criminal court had turned down a similar appeal from Woods, but lawyers said they had new evidence to bolster their claims.
Two of the court's judges, Sharon Keller and Lawrence Meyers, voted to deny the reprieve, which was issued more than six hours before Woods could have been taken to the death chamber.
The appeal cited IQ tests and records showing Woods received failing or near-failing grades in most of his special education classes in school. Woods also has difficulty reading and writing, grasping the concept of punishment, understanding that actions have consequences and difficulty pronouncing certain words and letters, the appeal said.
Prosecutors disputed the claims.
"I can't tell you he's the sharpest fellow I've ever met, but he doesn't meet the mental retardation standards," said Richard Hattox, who prosecuted Woods.
Hattox said evidence showed only one man at the slaying scene. DNA on a knife identified as the murder weapon was traced to Woods. But the key witness was Cody Patterson, who survived his attack and testified against Woods.
A cowboy exercising a horse near the cemetery spotted some movement in the brush and found the gravely wounded boy who identified Woods as his attacker.
In a statement to police, Woods said he had taken drugs before going to his former girlfriend's house and admitted to the abduction. He said he was trying to keep the girl quiet by holding a knife to her throat but that she jerked.
"I cut her throat," he told officers.
From death row, he said the statement was coerced after he'd been kept awake for three days.
Other evidence at Woods' trial, which was moved to Llano in Central Texas in 1998 because of extensive publicity in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, was Sarah Patterson's diary, in which she expressed hatred for Woods. Evidence showed the girl had been sexually molested and both she and Woods had the same sexually transmitted disease.
Woods' former girlfriend, Schwana Patterson, had kicked him out of her home days before the attack on her children. Prosecutors said she heard the children screaming as they were abducted but didn't help.
She denied the accusations but was convicted in 1998 of injury to a child by omission and received 23 years in prison. Her sentence later was reduced to eight years.
Woods also received a 40-year prison term for the attack on Cody Patterson. The boy testified he was awakened by his sister's screams as Woods beat her in the bed the children shared.
Scheduled for execution next is Eric Nenno, 47, is set to die Tuesday for abducting, raping and strangling a 7-year-old girl who lived in his Harris County neighborhood in 1995.