(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a request to stay the execution of a convicted triple murderer who says he suffers from mental incapacity, ruling within hours after an appeals court lifted a stay granted by a federal judge.
Missouri prison officials were planning to put John Middleton to death by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. CDT on Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued a stay of execution on Tuesday morning after Middleton's attorneys argued that he was not competent to be executed.
But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday evening that the execution could go ahead.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster had asked for the stay to be vacated, arguing in court documents that Middleton was trying to manipulate the court system with false claims of mental incompetence.
"The time for enforcement of Missouri's criminal judgment against John Middleton is long overdue," Koster wrote.
The U.S. Supreme Court late on Tuesday denied an eleventh- hour request to stay the execution.
Lawyers representing Middleton have made a number of appeals to try to hold off his execution, arguing among other matters that new evidence shows Middleton is innocent of the 1995 killings that law enforcement said were tied to methamphetamine dealing in two counties in northern Missouri.
In an earlier appeal to the 8th Circuit appellate court, Middleton's attorneys said prosecutors relied on perjured testimony to convict him and that "vital exculpatory evidence" was suppressed at his trial.
The case involves the killings of Randy Hamilton, Stacey Hodge and Alfred Pinegar, who were reported by law enforcement to be tied to the drug trade in the summer of 1995. Middleton was a meth dealer at the time, and was convicted of killing the three to stop them from working as police informants.
Middleton's attorneys say the actual killers were other meth dealers who were exacting revenge on the supposed snitches.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo. and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Jim Loney, Peter Cooney, Sharon Bernstein and Clarence Fernandez)