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Top court denies execution stay for inmate

ATLANTA - The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for the execution of convicted killer Jack Alderman, even as other states have halted capital punishment to allow the nation's top court to decide whether lethal injection violates the Constitution.

The order paves the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to possibly step in. The high court's decision in September to hear a challenge to lethal injection has sent states scrambling to decide what that means for executions already in the pipeline.

Most have put them on hold. Executions in at least 10 states have been halted as a result of the litigation over lethal injections. Nevada became the latest Monday night when the state's top court halted an execution just 90 minutes before it was to take place.

So far only Georgia and Virginia are moving forward with scheduled executions this week.

In Virginia, Christopher Scott Emmett is set to die today unless the governor or the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes. Alderman is scheduled for execution in Georgia on Friday.

Alderman's lawyers had sought to delay his execution until the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge from a pair of death row inmates in Kentucky who argue that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. Georgia, like many other states, uses lethal injection.

The Georgia justices noted the U.S. Supreme Court review in its order denying Alderman's appeal, placing the ball squarely in their court.

'If that court stays the execution in this and similar cases in order to consider the issue raised herein, this court will of course comply with that determination and will closely follow every directive from that court,' the order said.

Michael Siem, one of Alderman's lawyers, said Tuesday they would file a state habeas petition with the court Tuesday afternoon, an appeal that could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

'We're a little surprised based on what's going on in the rest of the country that the Georgia court didn't issue a stay,' Siem told The Associated Press.

Alderman's legal team is also set to ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles for a 90-day stay at a hearing today. The board's legal counsel said in a memo that it does not have the authority to issue a stay because Alderman has passed up an opportunity to seek clemency.

Alderman is sentenced to die in the 1974 slaying of his wife in Chatham County. He has maintained his innocence in the more than three decades since the slaying.

The body of 20-year-old Barbara Alderman was found in her Pontiac submerged in a creek on the border of her family's property in Rincon. When police tracked down her husband he had her blood on his pants.

Authorities say Alderman and an accomplice, Arthur Brown, killed Barbara Alderman in her apartment to collect $20,000 in life insurance. Brown allegedly struck her on the head with a 12-inch crescent wrench. When she tried to get away, the two men suffocated her with their hands until she passed out. They then placed her limp body in a bathtub and left to go to a bar before returning that night to dump the body, authorities said.

Alderman contends he found his wife's body in the creek and cradled her head in his lap. But he says he panicked when he heard a noise because he was convinced his wife's family would blame him for her death.