Court delays suicidal death row inmate's execution

JACKSON, Ga. — Georgia’s Supreme Court has delayed the execution of a death row inmate who attempted suicide this week by slashing his throat and elbows with a razor blade shortly before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection.

The brief order issued Friday halts the execution of Brandon Joseph Rhode, 31, until after 4 p.m. Monday.

The prisons agency rescheduled the execution for Monday 7 p.m., spokeswoman Peggy Chapman said.

His attorney, Brian Kammer, had argued that the execution should be delayed until judges can evaluate whether the prisoner is competent to be executed, or understands why he is being punished. He said Rhode lost a large amount of blood Tuesday when he cut himself with the razor, went into shock and could have suffered brain damage.

“I think competency is a big issue,” said Kammer, who felt a lower-court judge in Butts County gave his arguments short shrift. “Part of the problem for this case is that the process that was followed in the Butts County Superior Court was just kind of a sham, a railroad job in some ways.”

Earlier in the day, Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson ruled that the prisoner’s attorney had not sufficiently shown that Rhode’s competency was at issue in the case.

“The Court finds that (Rhode) understands the nature of his punishment, i.e. that he is to be put to death and why he is being punished, i.e. because he has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death,” the judge wrote.

Rhode was convicted in 2000 of the killings of Steven Moss, 37, his 11-year-old son Bryan and 15-year-old daughter Kristin during the burglary of their Jones County home. His coconspirator, Daniel Lucas, was also sentenced to death in a separate trial and he remains on death row.

Rhode was scheduled to be put to death Tuesday, but the Georgia Supreme Court postponed the execution when Rhode was rushed to the hospital after the suicide attempt. Georgia corrections officials then pushed the execution back to Friday evening to give the courts more time to deal with pending litigation.

Rhode was stabilized after his attempt and placed in a restraining chair to prevent him from pulling out the sutures on his neck or doing any other harm to himself, state attorneys said. Kammer asked a judge to delay the execution again, contending that Rhode was put in a “torture chair” and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmate’s supporters filed a separate motion urging the execution be delayed for three weeks so an investigation can be carried out to determine how Rhode got the razor blades. A judge rejected the appeal, but ordered state prisons officials to take more security precautions to make sure he doesn’t harm himself.