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Court denies execution stay

After months of blocking attempts to execute him, Pedro Medina waited Monday for a last-minute stay 15 years after the murder of Dorothy James.

Medina, 39, was to die in Florida's electric chair this morning. His state lawyers turned to federal appeals courts in Atlanta and Washington after being rejected Monday afternoon by a federal judge in Orlando, where Ms. James was fatally stabbed on April 3, 1982.

"We have an appeal pending in the 11th Circuit (Court of Appeals)," said Martin McClain, Medina's lead lawyer.

The clerk for the 11th Circuit confirmed Monday afternoon that an application for habeas corpus was filed about midday.

Monday evening, however, the U.S. Supreme Court said it had denied Medina's requests for a stay of execution.

James' daughter has expressed her opposition to the execution, and Pope John Paul II named Medina in just his third plea for mercy in a Florida case. A New Jersey church was also fighting to save him.

"The prayer vigil is going on all day today," said Lorry Post, a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May, N.J.

Medina was one of nearly 125,000 Cubans who came to the United States during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, according to Richard Martell, who defends death sentences for the state.

Medina lived in Cape May, where he was sponsored by a member of the First Presbyterian Church for several months. When he moved to Orlando, he was befriended by Ms. James, a neighbor who taught physical education at an elementary school.

Lindi James, a manager for Walt Disney Co., has said she has never thought Medina killed her mother and didn't think her mother would want him executed. The daughter expressed strong feelings against Medina's execution in late January but said she was tired of the legal battle.

The pope's representative in the United States, Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, also wrote Gov. Lawton Chiles on behalf of the pope in mid-January.

Chiles signed Medina's death warrant in October, and the state planned his execution for early December.

But a few days before, Medina's state lawyers invoked a rarely-used state law banning the execution of anyone who doesn't understand that they're going to die in the electric chair or why they're being executed.

As required by law, Chiles called off the execution and appointed three psychologists to examine Medina. The psychologists concluded Medina was acting crazy to save his life. The execution was rescheduled.