WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court halted an execution in Mississippi on Tuesday, less than an hour before the convicted killer was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection.

The last-minute reprieve for Earl Wesley Berry is the third granted by the justices since they agreed late last month to decide a challenge to Kentucky’s lethal injection procedures. Tuesday’s order was the latest indication that most, if not all, executions by lethal execution will be halted at least until the justices decide the Kentucky case.

The decision brought an emotional response from about two dozen members of the victim’s family, who called a news conference to express their outrage.

“Now you want to tell me that we got a fair shake today?” said Charles Bounds, whose 56-year-old wife, Mary, was kidnapped from a church and killed by Berry in 1987.

“Please don’t ever let that man out of prison, ’cause you’ll have me, then. … I’ll kill him,” he said.

Berry had already been moved to an area of the Parchman state prison that houses the death chamber, but not yet prepared for execution, when the court’s decision was announced, said Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps.

“We told him immediately thereafter, and he just busted into tears,” Epps said.

Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia would have allowed the execution to go forward.

Berry was convicted in 1988 of kidnapping and beating Mary Bounds to death before dumping her body in the woods. His confession was used against him during the trial.

Berry’s execution had been planned for 7 p.m. EDT. When asked, Berry said he felt no remorse for the killing, corrections officials said.

Berry’s lawyer, Jim Craig, left the prison without talking to reporters.

The Supreme Court has allowed only one execution to go forward since agreeing to hear the Kentucky case, which it is likely to hear before its July recess. Michael Richard was executed in Texas on Sept. 25, the same day the court said it would hear a lethal injection challenge from two death row inmates in Kentucky. State and lower federal courts have halted all other scheduled executions since then.

Berry asked for a delay at least until the court issues its decision in the Kentucky case. He claims the mixture of deadly chemicals Mississippi uses will cause unnecessary pain, constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Berry, sentenced to death in 1988, waited too long to challenge the constitutionality of the lethal injection procedure.

In California, a judge said Tuesday that she intends to toss out the state’s new procedure for executions, a move that would throw even more uncertainty into California’s stalled capital punishment law.

In May, prison officials revised how they administer the lethal three-drug cocktail after a federal judge stopped executions in the state because he found executioners were improperly trained and equipped.

Judge Lynn O’Malley Taylor in Marin County tentatively ruled Tuesday that prison officials bungled when they failed to treat the revised execution method as a new state regulation, which requires public comment and the approval of the Office of Administrative Law, among other requirements.

Government attorneys will get a chance to change the judge’s mind at a hearing Wednesday morning.

Deputy Attorney General Michael Quinn, who is leading the state’s legal efforts to restart executions in California, declined to comment late Tuesday. No inmate has been executed in California since January 2006.

All state executions take place at San Quentin in Marin County. There are 667 inmates currently on death row, including 15 women held at a prison in Madera County.

Associated Press writers Holbrook Mohr in Parchman, Miss., and Paul Elias in San Francisco contributed to this report.

AP-ES-10-30-07 2333EDT

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