ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A federal judge in St. Louis has issued a stay of execution for murderer John C. Middleton, who is scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled this morning that Middleton had demonstrated "a substantial threshold showing of insanity" and that the execution should be delayed until the court considers arguments that he is not competent to be executed.
Perry acknowledged claims from Middleton's lawyers that he has been diagnosed with, and treated for, various mental illnesses, and that other inmates have reported that he talks to people who are not there.
"This is not a conclusion that he is actually incompetent, it is only a conclusion that he is entitled to a hearing on the issue," she wrote.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, in arguing against Middleton's request for a stay, argued that the condemned killer could have made the incompetency claim "long before today. But he chose not to."
There was no immediate response from Koster's office after the stay was issued; one is likely later today.
Middleton, 54, was sentenced to death for the 1995 shooting deaths of three people in northwest Missouri. He was previously scheduled to die by lethal injection in 2008, but the execution was stayed then by the Missouri Supreme Court amid legal challenges to the state's death penalty procedure.
Middleton's lawyers have also introduced new evidence suggesting he is innocent.