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PHOENIX -- The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a stay of execution for Samuel Lopez, less than 24 hours before he was to be put to death for the brutal murder of Estefana Holmes in 1986.
Lopez' attorneys had asked for the delay because of issues with the Arizona's clemency board and concerns that the new members have not had adequate training. The state Supreme Court agreed more time is needed to resolve the issues.
The judgment was issued two hours after Holmes' brother, Victor Arguijo, and nephew, Rick Alexander, flew into Phoenix to witness the execution.
"The frustration continues," Arguijo said. He was last in Phoenix for Lopez' trial in 1987, when he asked the judge to impose the death penalty.
"We'll just have to wait it out again. We've come this far," he said. "I trust in our judicial system, and I trust that that system will eventually work."
Lopez, then 24, was convicted of breaking in to 59-year-old Holmes' Phoenix apartment, raping her, stabbing her nearly two dozen times, and leaving her for dead.
"We just all felt justice had to be done, and we feel the same way today," Arguijo said about wanting Lopez to be executed. "Everyone has wanted to put this behind us, closure if you will."
Originally from Lubbock, Texas, Holmes was one of 13 brothers and sisters. She relocated to Phoenix later in life, working as a seamstress to support her son.
"[She] was just an extremely good hearted woman, a good Christian woman. I mean she would literally help anyone," Arguijo said.
In an affidavit filed in February 2012, Lopez said he was sorry for what had happened to Holmes, and said he did not remember committing the crime.
"What happened to Ms. Holmes was so horrible and so wrong, I've always been sorry for what she went through last night and for what her family has gone through ever since. But I don't know if I actually committed that crime. That awful night is just one of many days and nights that I can't remember," he wrote.
Lopez claims an abusive, poverty-stricken upbringing led him to spend his days drinking and sniffing paint.
"They always want to point to others, or their upbringing, drugs or alcohol... influences by their peers, but to me its a choice, people make those choices by themselves," Arguijo said.
The judge postponed the execution until June 27. Between now and then, Lopez' attorney will likely get another chance at a clemency hearing once the new members have finished their training. They will ask that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison.
Holmes' family said that would not be acceptable to them.