Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton turned down a plea for clemency Thursday and cleared the way for the execution of a 25-year-old convicted murderer.
Steven Douglas Hill, sentenced to death for the 1984 slaying of a state police investigator, was scheduled to be killed by lethal injection Thursday night in the execution chamber at the state prison near Grady.
Clinton denied the clemency request Thursday afternoon; the U.S. Supreme Court later rejected a last-ditch appeal.
The decision by the governor and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was announced in a one-line statement issued through his office.
"Gov. Clinton denied clemency after reviewing the court files, including the videotaped confession and transcripts of the clemency hearing and discussions with individuals involved in the case," said Clinton's press secretary, Mike Gauldin.
Also on Thursday, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis turned down a request for a rehearing of the case.
Clinton's last public comment about Hill was delivered Wednesday night, when he arrived in Little Rock from campaigning in West Virginia.
"I still have some videotapes to review," Clinton said before driving off past a gathering of local television reporters.
He spent Thursday in the governor's mansion, reviewing the case and awaiting a decision by the courts.
Clinton has never commuted a death penalty sentence. Hill would be the fourth man to be put to death during his governorship.
He also would be the second to be executed in Arkansas this year. On Jan. 24, the state executed Rickey Ray Rector, the brain-damaged murderer of a police officer.
According to Gauldin, the governor receives about 250 requests for clemency each year, for a variety of crimes and penalties. The state Board of Parole and Community Rehabilitation typically recommends granting clemency in about 15 cases a year.
Since 1983, Clinton has granted clemency in eight cases. In each of those cases, the parole board had recommended leniency. Unlike most recent Democratic candidates for President, Clinton personally supports the death penalty, which he says is justified for extreme crimes.
State prison spokesman David White said Hill was held until late Thursday in a holding cell 20 feet from the execution chamber. "He was extremely quiet this morning," said White, who added that telephone calls from Hill's family appeared to have bolstered his spirits later.
Hill was a teen-ager imprisoned for breaking and entering and criminal mischief when, on Oct. 15, 1984, he and another inmate escaped from a work detail and holed up in a farmhouse south of Little Rock.
Several hours later, state police investigator Robert W. Klein was shot in the face as he approached the house. In a videotaped statement to police that was played for the jury at his trial, Hill said he fired the fatal shot.
After Hill's trial, his fellow escapee, Michael Anthony Cox, contended that he himself had shot Klein. That formed much of the basis for Hill's plea for clemency.
But on April 29, despite Hill's tearful appeal in which he apologized to his victim's family, the state parole board recommended that clemency be denied.
As execution day approached here, the chorus of calls against the death penalty increased. Four of the state's religious leaders called in a letter published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for Clinton to rescind the sentence.
"We believe the death penalty is increasing the cycle of violence in our society rather than curbing it, as many men and women of good will intend it to do," said the letter, signed by leaders of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish and Methodist faiths.