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Published: Tuesday, 3/31/2009

Ohio execution delayed until high court ruling


COLUMBUS, Ohio A condemned killer who wanted more time to prove his claim of innocence received a reprieve of weeks or months Tuesday after a federal appeals court stopped his April execution. The state said it wouldn't appeal for now.

Brett Hartmann, 34, was scheduled to die by injection April 7 for killing a woman who was stabbed more than a hundred times, then had her hands cut off.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a brief reprieve was appropriate to determine whether Hartmann could succeed with his claim that he did not murder 46-year-old Winda Snipes in 1997.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court granted the delay while the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether prisoners have a constitutional right to test DNA evidence in their cases. A decision is expected this spring.

The state and Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh agreed to wait until the high court rules, said Laurie Cramer, a spokeswoman for Walsh's office.

Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said that decision could be several months away.

Hartmann says a jailhouse informant committed perjury at his 1998 trial. He also says untested evidence found at the scene, including a used condom and strands of hair, could exonerate him.

Hartmann's lawyers also say prosecutors have overlooked Snipes' ex-boyfriend as a possible suspect.

Documents and legal filings in the case refer to the inmate as Hartman, but he has said his name is Hartmann.

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the DNA case could give Hartmann access to the crime scene evidence he wants tested, the three-judge appeals court panel said in Tuesday's ruling. The panel said that evidence may be valuable because of the allegations regarding the ex-boyfriend.

"In light of the uncertainty surrounding Hartman's case, we will grant a temporary stay of execution to allow sufficient time for us to reassess all of the evidence," the panel said.

Hartmann got the word as he was visiting with his family, said defense attorney David Stebbins.

Tuesday's ruling "gives us an opportunity to resolve once and for all the lingering questions about his guilt or innocence," Stebbins said.

Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh has called Hartmann's perjury claim speculative and says there's no proof that testing new evidence would exonerate him.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month about prisoners' constitutional rights to DNA testing.

The issue arose in the case of William Osborne, who was convicted in a brutal attack on a prostitute in Alaska 16 years ago. He won a federal appeals court ruling granting him access to a blue condom that was used during the attack. Testing its contents would firmly establish his innocence or guilt, says Osborne, who has admitted his guilt in a bid for parole.

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