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Court delays Texas execution that had been set for Thursday

July 16, 2015

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas death row inmate won an indefinite reprieve Thursday, hours before he was set to die for the slaying of a 93-year-old woman at her home during a robbery a decade ago.

The Texas Court of Criminal of Appeals halted the scheduled lethal injection of Clifton Lamar Williams until questions about some incorrect testimony at his 2006 trial can be resolved.

Williams, 31, had faced execution Thursday evening for the killing of Cecelia Schneider. Investigators determined she had been beaten and stabbed before her body and her bed were set on fire.

In a brief order, the court agreed to return the case to the trial court in Tyler to review an appeal from Williams’ attorneys. They want to examine whether incorrect FBI statistics regarding DNA probabilities in population estimates cited by witnesses could have affected the outcome of Williams’ trial.

“We need time to look at this,” said Seth Kretzer, one of Williams’ lawyers. “No way we can investigate this in five hours.

The Texas Department of Public Safety sent a notice June 30 that the FBI-developed population database used by the crime lab in Texas and other states had errors for calculating DNA match statistics in criminal investigations. The Texas Attorney General’s Office informed Williams’ attorneys of the discrepancy on Wednesday.

Prosecutors in Tyler had opposed Williams’ appeal for a reprieve, telling the appeals court the state police agency insisted that corrected figures would have no impact. Williams is black, and prosecutors said the probability of another black person with the same DNA profile found in Schneider’s missing car was one in 40 sextillion. Jurors in 2006 were told the probability was one in 43 sextillion. A sextillion is defined as a 1 followed by 21 zeros.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst said Williams had not yet been moved to a small holding cell outside the death chamber at the Huntsville Unit prison when the court-ordered reprieve was issued. Death row is at another prison about 45 miles (70 kilometers) to the east.

Williams would have been the 10th inmate to receive a lethal injection this year in Texas. The state carries out the death penalty more than any other state, and has at least seven other executions scheduled in the coming months.

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