By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Missouri was set on Wednesday to put to death a man convicted in the 1994 murder of a motorist who stopped to assist him, should the U.S. Supreme Court lift a last-minute stay before a 24-hour warrant for his execution expires, officials said.
The execution of Allen Nicklasson, 41, which was scheduled for early on Wednesday, was ordered stayed by an Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel to hear further arguments, such as ineffective lawyers at trial and in earlier appeals.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the nation's highest court to vacate the stay, saying Nicklasson has had numerous unsuccessful appeals over the years.
The death warrant allows Missouri to execute Nicklasson on Wednesday, and officials are prepared to move quickly if the stay is lifted, Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Mike O'Connell said.
"We have everybody here assembled and ready to go," O'Connell said, adding that, if a decision is not handed down on Wednesday, the state will have to reapply to the Missouri Supreme Court for another execution warrant and date.
Nicklasson was found guilty of murder for the 1994 shooting of motorist Richard Drummond, an AT&T supervisor who stopped on a highway to help Nicklasson and two others whose car had broken down.
The three had stolen guns and ammunition from a home before their vehicle broke down. When Drummond stopped to offer them a ride, they abducted him, took him to a wooded area and shot him in the head, according to court records.
One of Nicklasson's co-horts, Dennis Skillicorn, was executed in 2009. The other, Tim DeGraffenreid, who was 17 at the time of Drummond's killing, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was given a reduced sentence.
Nicklasson and Skillicorn were also convicted of killing an Arizona couple while they were on the run after killing Drummond.
It was the second time in less than two months that Nicklasson has been granted a delay. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon postponed a scheduled October 23 execution because of broad criticism over the state's planned use of the drug propofol, widely used as an anesthetic in medical procedures.
Missouri later changed its protocol and used pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, mixed by a compounding pharmacy to execute serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin in November.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)