The U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay of execution for an Indiana inmate just minutes before he was scheduled to be put to death for the 1981 slaying of a man and his pregnant wife. The justices voted 6-3 late Thursday to overturn a federal appeals court decision that granted Marvin Bieghler, 58, a chance to challenge the legality of lethal injection, even though the high court had rejected a similar appeal just hours earlier. Bieghler, 58, was on death row for the shooting deaths of Tommy Miller, 20, and Kimberly Jane Miller, 19, whose bodies were found Dec. 11, 1981, in their mobile home. Tommy Miller had been shot six times and his wife, who was four weeks pregnant, was shot three times.
Indiana State Prison spokesman Barry Nothstine said prison officials planned to carry out the execution about 1:30 a.m. EST (0630 GMT).
The decision meant that Bieghler's execution could proceed, said Staci Schneider, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office. It was not immediately clear when the execution would be carried out at the Indiana State Prison.
Gov. Mitch Daniels on Thursday had turned down a clemency request. Bieghler, like Florida inmate Clarence Hill, challenged lethal injection as unconstitutional. Hill contends the three chemicals used in Florida's method of execution the same as those used in Indiana cause pain, making his execution cruel and unusual punishment.
The United States Supreme Court said Wednesday it would hear arguments in Hill's case, with the justices to decide whether a federal appeals court was wrong to prevent Hill from challenging the lethal injection method.
Bieghler's case differed from Hill's because he was allowed to contest the Indiana execution method and lost.
The Supreme Court has never found a specific form of execution to be cruel and unusual, and the Florida case does not give the court that opportunity. The justices could, however, spell out what options are available to inmates with last-minute challenges to the way they will be put to death.
Bieghler's attorney, Brent Westerfeld, told justices in a motion Thursday that a "grave injustice may arise" if Bieghler was executed while Hill's case is pending because there is a chance that Hill will win the right to pursue his claim against lethal injection and eventually win.
The state attorney general's office argued that Bieghler's appeal was a delay tactic and that Indiana's chemical injection method of execution, used since 1996, was constitutional.
The state argued that the Constitution does not guarantee a pain-free execution.
"Indeed, electrocution is a constitutionally permissible form of execution which is undoubtedly more painful than lethal injection," the brief said.
Justice John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer voted to grant the stay, court spokesman Ed Turner said. About 25 people protested Thursday night against the death penalty outside the prison.
On Monday, the Indiana Parole Board voted unanimously against recommending clemency for Bieghler, and Daniels issued a brief statement Thursday saying he had reviewed Bieghler's petition and rejected it.
Bieghler, an admitted drug dealer, told the parole board last week that he did not kill the couple and wanted Daniels to commute his death sentence to time served, reports the AP.