Appeals court temporarily halts execution of man convicted of killing Columbus college student Michele Cartagena

Lawyers for condemned killer Andrew Allen Cook, in a flurry of appeal efforts Wednesday, continued their legal fight to keep him from being put to death Thursday night.

Wednesday evening, the Georgia Court of Appeals temporarily halted his scheduled 7 p.m. Thursday execution. Word of that move came hours after Cook, 38, was denied clemency by the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Cook was convicted and sent to death row in March 1998 for the 1995 slayings of two Mercer University students. Grant Hendrickson, 22, and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Michele Cartagena, were shot to death while they sat in her car at a Lake Juliette lovers lane in the wee hours of Jan. 3, 1995.

Cartagena was a Columbus resident and 1993 Spencer High graduate. She was the school's valedictorian with a 4.07Grade Point Average on a 4.0 scale. One of the best high school tennis players in the city, she earned letters in four sports -- volleyball, softball, tennis and track.

Wednesday, one of Cook’s lawyers, Robin Painter, declined comment on the last-ditch actions his attorneys were pursuing.

The lawyers had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in. But a court order said Cook’s application for a stay of execution had been denied along with his petition for a rehearing.

Cook is one of two Georgia inmates scheduled for execution this week. Warren Lee Hill’s execution was put on hold Tuesday, less than an hour before he was to die by lethal injection.

Cook and Hill argue the state is violating the law by using pentobarbital in executions without a prescription.

On Wednesday, the state asked the court to deny Cook’s request for a stay and lift the stay it granted for Hill. The state argues that the challenge is frivolous, and it is seeking a ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court.

A few days ago, Cook put in an order for his last meal “consisting of steak, baked potato, potato wedges, fried shrimp, lemon meringue pie and soda,” a statement from prison officials said.

As she was driving to Georgia from her home in Tennessee late last week, Cook’s mother, Sandra, said by phone, “It’s a very emotional time for all of us. ... Everybody is just on pins and needles.”