Attorneys for death-row murderer Hubert Lester Michael Jr. have won a stay of execution on his fourth death warrant for killing 16-year-old Trista Eng in 1993.
Michael, 58, formerly of Lemoyne, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at Rockview state prison in Centre County on Sept. 22.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed that execution warrant July 24 after the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the third stay in the case. That happened in June.
"This is, in my view, nothing but delay," York County District Attorney Tom Kearney told The York Dispatch. "Yet again, justice for the family of this young lady is delayed. It's a shame."
The 3rd Circuit's chief judge, Theodore A. McKee, issued the stay of execution Friday in response to a motion by Michael's attorneys to have his case reviewed "en banc" by the 3rd Circuit. The term means to have a case heard and decided by an entire panel of judges, rather than by one or a few of them.
"The execution is hereby stayed until final resolution is reached on the pending petition for rehearing," McKee wrote.
The federal appeals court is deciding whether to grant the motion, according to Kearney, who last month called Michael the "poster boy" for the death penalty.
The murder: Michael told his former defense attorney, York County chief public defender Bruce Blocher, he offered Trista a ride as she was walking to her job at Hardee's in Dillsburg on July 12, 1993.
At some point during the ride, Michael stopped the car and used the electrical cords to tie up Trista, then drove her to state game lands in Warrington Township, according to Blocher.
He raped her, put a bag over her head and shot her three times, Blocher has said, then hid her body in a wooded area.
Blocher revealed details of Michael's confession when called to the stand during a 1997 appeals hearing in the case.
Michael fled the state 10 days later. At the time, he was free on bail for a Lancaster County rape charge.
Captured: He was captured July 27, 1993, in Utah. Police found the murder weapon in the car he was using, officials said. He was charged with homicide in late August 1993.
Trista's body was found by Michael's own family members after he confessed the murder to his brother.
In November 1993, Michael escaped from Lancaster County Prison but was captured in New Orleans in March 1994, according to the Department of Corrections. He was later sentenced to 10 to 20 years for the Lancaster County rape.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for killing Trista and was sentenced to death.
Death warrants: In all, Pennsylvania governors have signed death warrants for Michael four times. The first two were in 1996 and 2004. Both times, his execution was stayed.
The third warrant, signed by Corbett, ordered Michael put to death on Nov. 8, 2012, but the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals granted Michael a stay of execution just hours before it was to occur.
In granting that stay, the appeals court returned the case to U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in Harrisburg asking him to explain why he denied the killer's request to keep fighting his death sentence.
Jones wrote, "Over 19 years after the heinous murder the petitioner has admitted committing, it is time to draw this affair to a close."
The 3rd Circuit later upheld Jones' decision.
Changed his mind: For years, Michael maintained he wanted to die, but he changed his mind in 2004, just days before his scheduled execution.
His attorneys argue he was not mentally competent when he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Oct. 11, 1994, and didn't challenge his death sentence.
They've also said Michael suffered from mental-health issues that improved when he was transferred from Graterford state prison to Greene state prison. Now that his mental health has improved, Michael is fighting his death sentence, they have said.
Michael is represented by the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia. Messages to two of his attorneys were not immediately returned.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.