A Texas inmate was sent to his death after a computer glitch held up his appeal filing, and a presiding judge refused to extend the deadline.
Earlier that day the US Supreme Court said it would consider a case from Kentucky, in which lawyers were arguing that the lethal injection is unconstitutional.
The Houston Chronicle reports that judges were expecting to receive an appeal, triggered by the Supreme Court's ruling. Judge Cathy Cochran told the paper that several of her colleagues were prepared to stay in their offices waiting for Michael Richard's lawyers to file his paperwork.
"A number of judges stayed very late that evening, waiting for a filing from the defence attorney," she said.
Judge Paul Womack was one of those who stayed in the office, waiting for the appeal. "All I can tell you is that night I stayed at the court until seven o'clock in case some late filing came in," he said. "I was under the impression we might get something... It was reasonable to expect an effort would be made with some haste in light of the Supreme Court [action]."
But Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused to allow the appeal to be filed after 5pm, and did not consult with her colleagues on her decision. She said: "I think the question ought to be why didn't they file something on time? They had all day." The court does not accept emailed appeals.
Lawyers for 49-year-old Richards said a computer problem meant they couldn't print their filing in time to get it to the court by 5pm. They added that if the court would have accepted their submission by email, they still would have made the deadline, and that they only needed an extra 20 minutes.
Richards was executed later that day for the murder in 1986 of Marguerite Lucille Dixon, a 53-year-old nurse and mother of seven.
Civil rights campaigners said they were considering filing an official complaint about the debacle. ®