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Death row inmate wins stay of execution

April 18, 1997

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The daughter of a man convicted of killing two women he tortured in his home won him a stay of execution early today, despite his request to be put to death.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court ruled that Maxine Davidson White can intervene in the case of her father, Gary Heidnik. The appeals court said a lower court wrongly denied her request by ruling her father was rational enough to act on his own.

``While there is no dispute as to Heidnik’s considerable intelligence and expressive powers ... there is no evidence, and no finding, that Heidnik could make a rational decision in that regard,″ the court said, alluding to Heidnik’s refusal to appeal his death sentence.

Whether the ruling will prevent Heidnik from being executed before his death warrant expires midnight Saturday was not clear.

The ruling set aside a decision Wednesday by a U.S. District Court judge who claimed that Ms. White had not shown her father was incompetent.

In overturning the decision, the appeals court ordered the federal court to continue a stay of Heidnik’s execution, which originally was set for this past Tuesday.

The appeals court also ordered the federal court to designate Ms. White a so-called ``next friend″ of Heidnik’s, appoint her a lawyer and allow her to appeal the death sentence on her father’s behalf.

Meanwhile, a separate appeal of a state court’s ruling that Heidnik was rational in his decision to end his life was pending before Pennsylvania’s top court. A decision was expected today.

Heidnik, 53, has never opposed the death sentence imposed for the murders of two women held captive along with four others in his North Philadelphia row house. One of the women was kidnapped in November 1986 and two were killed sometime during the next four months.

Survivors of Heidnik’s basement torture chamber testified during his 1988 trial that he cut up one captive’s body with an electric saw, cooked her head and fed her flesh to the other women.

The appeals court said Heidnik’s decision to die must be based on a rational thought process.

Psychiatrists have agreed in various court hearings that Heidnik is a paranoid schizophrenia, delusional and incompetent to make a rational decision.

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