The Strange Case of Napoleon Beazley

How media coverage of a young killer created death row chic.
You've probably read or heard recently about the case of Napoleon Beazley, who was scheduled to be executed in Texas on August 15 for a murder he committed on the night of April 19, 1994. On August 13, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on Beazley's request for a stay of execution (three of the justices, who had some connection with the murder victim's son, a federal appeals court judge in Virginia, recused themselves). But just a few hours before the scheduled execution, the Texas state court of appeals granted a stay.

Coverage of Beazley's case has focused above all on the fact that he was "only 17 at the time of the slaying," as the New York Times put it. Beazley's lawyers have also alleged that the victim's son exercised undue influence on the prosecutors' decision to ask for the death penalty, that the jury was racially biased, and that the lawyer who argued Beazley's original appeal was incompetent. And his two codefendants recanted part of their testimony, in which they said that before the crime Beazley had said he wanted "to see what it feels like to see somebody die." Prosecutors used this testimony to support their argument for the death penalty.

Beazley had no prior criminal record; his small-time crack dealing had gone undetected before the murder. The son of the first black city council member in Grapeland, Texas, he was a star football player and president of the senior class at the local high school. Still, no one openly disputes that he committed the murder, shooting John Luttig twice in the head, though some of his anti-death penalty supporters (about whom more below) manage to hint that there is some uncertainty about who actually pulled the trigger.

Luttig, 63 when he was killed, is invariably described ...

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June
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