Clemency board denies death row inmate's plea for mercy

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The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency voted unanimously to deny Samuel Lopez' final plea for mercy on Friday. By Mike Gertzman The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency voted unanimously to deny Samuel Lopez' final plea for mercy on Friday. By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency voted unanimously to deny a death-row inmate's final plea for mercy on Friday.

The board voted 4-0 to deny Samuel Lopez' request to have his sentence commuted to life.

He is set to die by lethal injection on Wednesday, June 27.

Lopez was convicted of brutally raping and murdering 59-year-old Estefana "Essie" Holmes in 1986.

Holmes' family members delivered emotional testimony during the hearing, asking the board to deny Lopez clemency.

"Sammy didn't murder just Essie, he murdered a family, he traumatized a family," said Denise Evans, Holmes' daughter-in-law. "We need this to end."

Defense attorneys argued that Lopez had inadequate legal representation in his first trials, and noted that his traumatic upbringing and longtime substance abuse had caused mental impairment.

"There are people who make damaged choices because of the way they have been raised, because of the way their brain functions," neuropsychiatrist George Wood told the board. Wood said Lopez should pay for his crimes, but be spared death.

Friday's hearing marked the second time Lopez' team appeared before the clemency board.

At a hearing last month, defense attorney Kelley Henry walked out before presenting her case, arguing that three new clemency board members were improperly appointed and had not had adequate training.

Lopez' execution, originally set for May 16, was postponed by an Arizona Supreme Court judge who ruled the new board members should complete further training.

Wednesday's execution will be the first in Arizona in which witnesses are able to see the lethal injection preparation. In prior executions, that has been done behind a curtain.