Texas halts execution of man convicted of killing three children in fire

Texas death row inmate Raphael Holiday is seen in an undated picture released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Texas plans on Wednesday to execute Holiday, 36, who was convicted of killing his daughter and two stepdaughters in a mobile home blaze in 2000. REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via Reuters

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas district judge on Wednesday halted the execution of a 36-year-old man, hours before he was due to be put to death by lethal injection for killing his daughter and two stepdaughters in a mobile home blaze in 2000.

The Texas Attorney General's office appealed, trying to win a ruling that would allow the execution of Raphael Holiday to proceed. It had been planned for 6 p.m. at the state's death chamber in Huntsville.

"The main factors for the decision were some additional issues under the law that had not been addressed previously," Madison County district Judge Hal Ridley told Reuters by telephone.

One of those items was testimony allowed in previous trials that may not be admissible under current standards, he said.

If the execution goes ahead, Holiday would be the 531st inmate executed by Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the most of any state.

A new lawyer for Holiday had launched appeals in U.S. courts as well, saying his federally appointed counsel acted against his wishes and abandoned further rounds of court filing to spare his life.

The Texas Attorney General's office in a court filing called the new attorney an "intruder" and said this conflict between his attorneys should not be given credence by the courts as a reason to halt the execution.

The Supreme Court in June denied a request from Holiday's federally appointed lawyers to put a hold on the execution on grounds including problems with his trial such as unreliable testimony given by an expert for the prosecution.

Holiday was convicted of killing Tierra Lynch, 7, Jasmine DuPaul, 5, and Justice Holiday, 1, in 2000 in a rural community about 100 miles northwest of Houston.

He had been living with Tami Wilkerson, his common law wife at the time, until she secured a restraining order against him for sexually assaulting Tierra, according to the Texas Attorney General's office.

About six months later, Holiday, who had attempted to reconcile with Wilkerson, returned to the house and forced the girls' grandmother at gunpoint to douse the home with gasoline, which ignited, it said. The grandmother survived.

After watching the house burn, he fled the scene in a vehicle and was caught after a high-speed chase with police. The bodies of the three girls were later found huddled together in the charred remains of the home, the office said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sandra Maler)