The Supreme Court overturned a stay yesterday and allowed Oklahoma to move ahead with the execution of a man who killed two people when he was 17, an unusual step for justices who have been bitterly divided on capital punishment for people who commit crimes as juveniles.
Scott Allen Hain had won the stay a day earlier from an appeals court. Hain was put to death last night for helping to burn a man and woman alive in the trunk of their car in 1987.
Oklahoma had asked the high court to intervene, arguing that Hain's appeals had run out.
The court's intervention seemed to shut the door on hopes by death row opponents that the court would soon consider banning executions of people who were juveniles when they committed their crimes.
The issue has been contentious for the court, which has held that states can put to death people who were 16 or 17 when they committed murder.
Last October, the four most liberal justices said the court should raise the age to 18.
"The practice of executing such offenders is a relic of the past and is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society," Justice John Paul Stevens said, along with Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
The United States is one of a few countries that allow such executions.
The decision to allow the execution came from the court's conservatives: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other four noted their objections.
Hain, 32, had won a reprieve from a panel of the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which voted 2-1 Wednesday night to stay the execution.
Hain was convicted of killing Michael Houghton, 27, and Laura Lee Sanders, 22, restaurant co-workers and friends, who were kidnapped Oct. 6, 1987, from behind a Tulsa bar and stuffed into the trunk of Sanders's car, then taken to a rural area, where the vehicle was set on fire.