ATHENS, Ga. - The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the execution of a white supremacist just hours before he was to be put to death.
The court's temporary stay is designed to give the trial court judge time to correct a technical issue.
William Mark Mize, 52, was convicted of killing one of his own followers. He was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Tuesday for the 1994 murder of Eddie Tucker, who was shot to death after he failed to burn down what Mize considered to be a crack house in Athens.
The Georgia Supreme Court held Wednesday that Chief Judge Lawton Stephens of the Western Judicial Circuit denied Mize's request for a hearing, but did not rule on the motion itself. The supreme court can't hear the appeal until Stephens rules on the motion.
The top court's stay will expire 24 hours after Stephens rules on Mize's motion. If the judge rules Tuesday, Mize's execution could take place as soon as Wednesday.
Stephens did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Mize's attorneys have argued that the execution should be delayed because of lingering doubt over Mize's role in the murder. They also said the state introduced "inflammatory, irrelevant evidence" about Mize's racist beliefs to prejudice the jury.
Prosecutors said Mize is an unrepentant killer who led Tucker into the woods in Oconee County and shot him in the head with a shotgun after he didn't destroy a house that Mize wanted burned to the ground.
Mize was the leader of a nascent white supremacist group called the National Vastilian Aryan Party - which prosecutors say was similar to the Ku Klux Klan - when Tucker applied to join the group.
Mize ordered Tucker and another supporter, Chris Hattrup, to set the house on fire the night of Oct. 15, 1994, and the group stopped at a local convenience store to buy lighter fluid, prosecutors said.
When the two failed to burn down the house, prosecutors said Mize turned to Hattrup and said "you know what we have to do." The two led Tucker into the woods in rural Oconee County, where Hattrup shot him in the back and the chest.
Mize, prosecutors said, fired the fatal shot to the head.
At his 1995 trial, Mize's girlfriend, who witnessed the killing, agreed to testify against him and charges against her were dropped. During the sentencing phase, Mize took the stand and told jurors he wanted no other sentence but death and it took the jury less than a day to grant him his wish.
Mize's lawyers have filed a flurry of appeals contending the state tried to prejudice the jury by showing the panel photographs of a KKK belt buckle, a racist poster and other items seized from Mize's home.
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that while evidence concerning a defendant's political or racial beliefs is normally irrelevant, it was accepted because it explained Mize's motive for the murder "and his bent of mind."
The appeals also hinge on sworn statements from Hattrup, who is serving life in prison after pleading guilty to murder. Hattrup later claimed that he fired the third and final shot amid a drunken rage.
Appellate courts, though, have dismissed Hattrup's testimony as contradictory and inconsistent. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found in a 2008 ruling that Hattrup either has an incomplete memory or, at worst, he "is lying in order to help his friend Mize."