10 Last-minute Stays of Execution

He Already Had the Needle in His Arm
A lethal injection chamber like the one David Autry faced for his execution. Edward McCain/Workbook Stock/Getty Images

On Oct. 4, 1983, in a state prison in Huntsville, Texas, it looked as if James David Autry was about to die. A drifter from Amarillo, Autry had been sentenced to death for a 1980 double murder in which a convenience store clerk was shot between the eyes as she tried to collect $2.70 from Autry for a six-pack of beer [source: Associated Press].

That morning, Autry awoke before dawn to begin the ritual of execution. He was manacled, placed in the warden's car and driven 13 miles (21 kilometers) away to another prison in Huntsville. Then, at about midnight, after a last meal, he was strapped into a gurney, and a needle was inserted into his arm, as prison officers waited for the order to administer a deadly dose of chemicals.

At 12:39 a.m., they got a call, informing them that the U.S. Supreme Court had stayed Autry's execution for 30 days, while it evaluated the constitutionality of Texas' execution regimen. He remained strapped in the gurney with the needle in his arm for another half an hour, until he was told he could return to his cell [source: Associated Press]. Eventually, however, the court ruled that Autry's execution could proceed, and he was executed in March 1984. The inmate unsuccessfully sued in federal court to force Texas to telecast the event live "to help stop someone else from being put on death row"[source: Associated Press].