The execution of a man convicted of the brutal murder of a six-year-old boy two decades ago has been delayed to avoid him suffering a “cruel and unusual punishment.” Convicted child killer Christopher Sepulvado was due to die by lethal injection tomorrow at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Yesterday the state agreed to postpone the execution for 90 days.
Sepulvado, now 70 years old, was convicted of murdering his six-year-old stepson, Wesley Allen Mercer, in 1993, and sentenced to death after a unanimous recommendation by the jury. Evidence was that one day after marrying the boy’s mother, Yvonne, he punished the child for defecating in his pants, torturing him for two days. He spanked the boy, withheld food, and forced him to sleep on a trunk, repeating the punishment the following day. A day later, when the boy did not respond immediately to an instruction to wash his soiled clothing, Sepulvado beat him with a screwdriver until he was unconscious. He then submerged the little boy in a bathtub full of “scalding hot water.” Wesley was dead by the time the couple got him to a hospital three hours later.
At the trial, Wesley’s mother, Yvonne Sepulvado, was acquitted of murder, but sentenced to 21 years for manslaughter. She served less than eight years in jail, and is now remarried and living in Monroe, Louisiana. Her book, A Time to Heal: The Struggles of a Battered Woman describes the “toxic relationship” she had with Christopher Sepulvado. She denies that she was a “monster,” and says the little boy was “her life.”
Initially, it was reported that the state of Louisiana had not been able to source the drug pentobarbital required for Sepulvado’s execution in terms of the state’s execution protocol. Then last week the authorities announced that they would be using the same two-drug cocktail used to execute Dennis McGuire in Ohio mid-January. This contained a painkiller (hydromorphone) and a sedative (midazolam). After the execution, his lawyers claimed he had died an agonizing death in what has been labeled “one of the lengthiest executions on record.” The state of Ohio has scheduled its next lethal injection execution for February 19.
Last week Sepulvado’s lawyers successfully appealed for a court hearing to test whether their client has a “constitutional right” to avoid what they have termed a “cruel and unusual punishment.” A date has been set for April 7, which means the execution of the convicted child killer will be delayed. Nevertheless, the lawyers have conceded in court papers that they know he will “eventually be put to death.”
According to Gary Clements, who is director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana and also a lawyer representing Sepulvado, they want to determine whether use of the controversial drug cocktail violates his client’s constitutional rights. A New York law professor, Deborah Denno, from Fordham University, maintains that states that impose the death penalty experiment with drugs that have never been used on human beings. This strengthens Clements’ case, and backs up statements that the “cocktail” used in Ohio last month was “an experimental combination.”
Meanwhile state representative Joseph Lopinto, who is also a lawyer, has vowed to diversify the death penalty laws in Louisiana. Specifically, he wants the electric chair to be reintroduced. He has stated that legislation will be filed this year.
The state of Louisiana switched its execution technique from the electric chair to lethal injection 23 years ago. However, drug companies are not keen to have their products used in death chambers, and there are currently 81 people – including Christopher Sepulvado – on death row in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Since there has not been an execution since 2002, essentially all these sentences have been delayed. Sepulvado’s execution date was eventually set on December 12, 2012 by a district court judge, and he was due to be put to death on February 13 last year. This was later changed to February 5, 2014. His lawyers have so far managed to avoid this final step for the convicted child killer, with their arguments about types of drugs and what might be construed as a “cruel punishment.”
By Penny Swift