JARRATT, Va. -- The US Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay of execution yesterday for a man convicted of fatally stabbing a pool hall manager with a pair of scissors.
The convict, Robin Lovitt, 41, had been scheduled to be executed at 9 last night, barring intervention from the high court or from Governor Mark R. Warner. The court's action was made without comment.
The stay will remain in place until the full court resumes its sessions in October. The court will then either hear Lovitt's appeal or allow Virginia to execute him.
The case has attracted national attention because the murder weapon and DNA evidence were destroyed after the trial. Among those fighting the execution were the former independent counsel, Kenneth Starr.
Lovitt's lawyers and opponents of capital punishment have argued that the conviction should be reviewed because of the questions surrounding the evidence.
''It boggles the mind that Virginia is even proceeding with this and that the governor hasn't intervened before now to stop it," said Jack Payden-Travers, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. ''We are going to be the laughingstock of the justice system if Virginia proceeds with this execution."
Lovitt was convicted in 1999 in the slaying of Clayton Dicks, 44, as the pool hall was being robbed.
Initial DNA tests of the bloody scissors could not conclusively link Lovitt to the 1998 slaying. A court clerk later destroyed most of the evidence, including the scissors, making further DNA testing impossible.
The scissors were among items discarded in 2001 to free up space in the evidence room at Arlington County Circuit Court. In 2003, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected Lovitt's assertion that his due process rights had been violated.
The Virginia attorney general's office has said DNA evidence was not critical because of ''very compelling, strong evidence," including witness testimony.
''He was found guilty by 12 jurors, two trial judges, seven state justices, one federal district judge and three federal appellate judges," said Emily Lucier, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office.
Lovitt, who declined an interview request, has steadfastly maintained his innocence.