HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- There's no question Gary Graham was a street punk responsible for a crime spree 19 years ago. But he insists his weeklong rampage of robbery, rape and theft did not include the fatal shooting of an Arizona man outside a Houston supermarket.
His execution, scheduled for Thursday evening, had drawn exceptional scrutiny, largely because of Republican Gov. George W. Bush's presidential bid and a national re-examination of capital punishment.
The fate of Graham, his court appeals exhausted, rested early Thursday with the 18-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which could recommend that Bush issue a 120-day reprieve, a commutation or a pardon.
The governor appoints the parole board, but is barred by law from halting the execution without a majority nod from the panel. The governor does have the power to grant a one-time 30-day reprieve in death penalty cases, but Graham received one in 1993 from Bush's predecessor, Democrat Ann Richards.
Texas has executed 22 inmates this year and 134 during Bush's 5 1/2 years in office.
Two years ago, Bush told the parole board to review the case of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas because of questions about the slaying for which Lucas was about to die. Lucas' death sentence eventually was commuted to life. And earlier this month, he authorized a reprieve for inmate Ricky McGinn pending DNA tests.
He has sent no similar messages about Graham's case.
The debate over Graham's case comes amid growing questions around the country about the death penalty. Illinois Gov. George Ryan has placed a moratorium on state executions and Bush and Vice President Al Gore have been forced to deal with the issue as they campaign for president.
Death penalty opponents have adopted Graham's claims of innocence and his contention that he unfairly was convicted, primarily because of testimony from a single eyewitness.
''The Gary Graham case is significant because if he is executed ... he will be the case that will be the most frail, the weakest evidence to justify any execution in the past 27 years,'' said Lawrence Marshall, legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.
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