Courts reject Oklahoma inmate's try to stop execution

George Ochoa, 38, is scheduled to die of lethal injection Tuesday for the 1993 shooting deaths of Francisco Morales and Maria Yanez during a home invasion in Oklahoma City while three of the couple's young children were present.
BY SEAN MURPHY Published: December 4, 2012

A federal judge and a Denver-based appeals court both denied Monday an Oklahoma death row inmate's attempt to stop his pending execution for two murders, rejecting the claim that he is mentally incompetent.

U.S. District Judge David Russell and a three-member panel of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals both denied inmate George Ochoa's appeal.

Ochoa, 38, is scheduled to die of lethal injection Tuesday for the 1993 shooting deaths of Francisco Morales and Maria Yanez during a home invasion in Oklahoma City while three of the couple's young children were present.

The inmate has maintained his innocence and asked the state's Pardon and Parole Board last month to grant him clemency, which the panel rejected by a 4-1 vote.

“I didn't kill those people,” Ochoa told the board via video conference from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester during the Nov. 16 hearing. Ochoa also claimed he was being “shocked” and “tortured” by one of his victims, a claim that prosecutors say may be an attempt to feign incompetence. He made similar allegations of being tortured and burned in a handwritten letter last month to the 10th Circuit Court.

Ochoa's attorneys maintain that his mental status has deteriorated in recent years and that the state's process for determining competency is unconstitutional, both claims that Russell and the appellate court rejected Monday.

“The procedures under Oklahoma law to bring this issue to the proper judicial authorities are wholly lacking in minimal constitutional safeguards because the warden is in charge of the process,” attorney James Hankins wrote.

Russell wrote that Ochoa does not support his claim of insanity with an expert opinion and that his demeanor at the November clemency hearing suggested that he was aware of the process and the consequences if clemency was denied.

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