A death-row inmate whose case drew protests from Pope John Paul II and the Italian government won a temporary reprieve Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court, which stayed his execution so it could review his appeal.
Joseph Roger O'Dell III, 54, was to have been electrocuted Wednesday night for raping, sodomizing and strangling Helen Schartner outside a Virginia Beach nightclub in 1985.
The court, without explanation, put the execution on hold pending its review of his formal appeal, which probably will not occur before January.
The case has been front-page news in Italy, which is staunchly against the death penalty. The pope and the Italian government sent appeals to President Clinton and Gov. George F. Allen to spare O'Dell's life.
Members of both houses of the Italian Parliament applauded when the Supreme Court's action was announced, and the stay of execution led the evening news report on Italy's RAI state television news program.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pope expressed "satisfaction" with the stay.
O'Dell says he is not guilty. His appeal contends that DNA tests three years after his 1986 conviction showed that blood on his shirt did not match the victim's and that tests of blood on his jacket were inconclusive.
It also seeks resentencing should the conviction be upheld, arguing that the jury should have been told O'Dell's long criminal history would have made him ineligible for parole.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously upheld O'Dell's conviction in September, but split 7 to 6 in denying his request for resentencing.