A Texas man charged at age 17 with murdering the father of a federal judge from Virginia was executed tonight in a case that created an unusual conflict for the U.S. Supreme Court. Three justices of the high court recused themselves from considering the condemned prisoner's appeal because of their professional associations with the victim's son.
The inmate, Napoleon Beazley, 25, was put to death for the 1994 slaying of Texas businessman John Luttig during a botched carjacking. Luttig, 63, was the father of Judge J. Michael Luttig of the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That relationship prompted three of the Supreme Court's nine justices -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and David H. Souter -- to recuse themselves from Beazley's case, citing their familiarity with Judge Luttig.
Suzanne Luttig, a daughter of the victim, was the only family member to witness tonight's execution in Huntsville, Tex. In Virginia, Judge Luttig said in an interview that he empathized with Beazley's family.
"One to another, as human beings, we extend our sympathy to them for their loss," said Luttig, 47, who is often mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee. "For us, the lives of our loved ones have been lost and our lives have been changed forever."
Beazley's case also was notable because he was arrested as a juvenile. The European Union, the American Bar Association, Amnesty International and numerous other organizations had called for Beazley's life to be spared because of his age at the time of the slaying.
But the six Supreme Court justices who did not recuse themselves declined to use Beazley's appeal to revisit the issue of whether the Constitution permits states to execute convicted murderers who commit their crimes before reaching adulthood.
Dealing with the death penalty age issue in a 1989 case, the high court ruled that imposing capital punishment on a defendant who committed murder at age 15 or younger would violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Currently, of the 38 states with capital punishment, 17 allow death sentences for 16-year-old convicted murderers. Sixteen states set the age limit at 18, and five states, including Texas, set the limit at 17.
"It's become so politicized," Judge Luttig said of Beazley's case. "What gets lost is that these are two families. For us and the Beazleys, it's not a political event."
At various points in his legal career, Luttig worked with Scalia, Thomas and Souter before they were named to the Supreme Court.
Tonight's lethal injection was the 14th in Texas this year, accounting for nearly half the 30 executions carried out nationwide so far in 2002. Of the nearly 800 prisoners executed in the United States since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume a quarter-century ago, Beazley was the 11th inmate in Texas, and the 19th in the country, to be put to death for committing a murder before age 18.
Three assailants took part in the April 19, 1994, carjacking in the East Texas city of Tyler. Beazley was the convicted triggerman. Police said he shot John Luttig once, tried to shoot Luttig's wife but missed, then turned the gun on Luttig again, shooting him in the head. The three assailants abandoned Luttig's Mercedes-Benz a short while later after a crash. The two accomplices were sentenced to life in prison.
Although Beazley had no final words, he left a written statement in which he accepted responsibility for the crime but opposed capital punishment. "No one wins tonight," he wrote. "No one gets closure. No one walks victorious."
At the time of the killing, Beazley was a high school football star and the president of his senior class in Grapeland, Tex., about 60 miles south of Tyler. His father had been Grapeland's first black city council member. Beazley had no criminal record before his arrest in Luttig's slaying, although he later told authorities that he had sold crack cocaine and owned a gun.
"It's my fault," Beazley said at a court hearing last August, at which a judge set his execution date. "I violated the law . . . and I violated a family -- all to satisfy my own misguided emotions. I'm sorry. I wish I had a second chance to make up for it, but I don't."