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AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The United States Supreme Court denied last-minute appeals to halt the execution in Texas on Tuesday of a man convicted of murdering a woman in exchange for $2,000 from her relatives, who took out life insurance policies on the victim.
Roland Ruiz, 44, was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at the state's death chamber in Huntsville at 6 p.m. (0000 GMT) for the murder of Theresa Rodriguez, 29, in 1992 in the San Antonio area. However, the execution was delayed while prison officials awaited word from the court.
Rodriguez's husband and brother-in-law hired Ruiz so they could collect $400,000 from life insurance policies.
If the execution goes ahead, it would be the 541st in Texas, the most of any state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Lawyers for Ruiz had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution, saying he previously received inadequate counsel and because holding him on death row for a quarter of a century amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
"The delay is attributable to no lapse in Mr. Ruiz’s diligence - instead, it is entirely attributable to the State’s failure to provide competent lawyers," they said in legal filings.
Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, expressing concern over Ruiz spending more than 20 years in solitary confinement while awaiting execution. He said this case was appropriate to conduct constitutional scrutiny of extended solitary confinement.
"If extended solitary confinement alone raises serious constitutional questions, then 20 years of solitary confinement, all the while under threat of execution, must raise similar
questions," he said.
Attorneys for Texas said the appeal lacked merit because Ruiz had failed to show a reason why federal courts should step in.
Ruiz was 20 when he reached a contract murder deal with brothers Michael and Mark Rodriguez, who were looking to collect the life insurance money.
Ruiz shot Theresa Rodriguez once in the head with a .357 caliber handgun after she pulled into her home's garage, according to court papers, which also said he confessed to the crime.
The two brothers were each given life sentences.
The father of the murder victim told the San Antonio Express-News the execution would not bring relief for the family.
"There’s never closure," Eddie Sanchez, Rodriguez’s father, was quoted as saying by the newspaper. "It’s not going to bring my daughter back."
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by James Dalgleish, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait