By Carey Gillam
July 15 (Reuters) - A federal judge in Missouri on Tuesday stayed the execution of a 54-year-old man convicted of three drug-related murders after the inmate's lawyers lodged a series of appeals, including claims that he is mentally incompetent and innocent.
John Middleton was scheduled to die by lethal injection in the execution chamber at the Missouri state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
But U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued a stay on Tuesday in response to claims by Middleton's attorneys that he is not competent to be executed.
The inmate made "a substantial threshold showing of insanity" and provided evidence showing he has been diagnosed with a variety of mental health disorders after a long history of abusing methamphetamine and other drugs, Perry ruled. Middleton is entitled to a hearing to present evidence about his mental status, the judge said in her ruling.
The Missouri Attorney General's office issued a statement saying it was reviewing the ruling.
Lawyers representing Middleton have made a series of appeals to try to hold off his execution, arguing among other matters that new evidence shows that Middleton is innocent of the 1995 killings that law enforcement said were tied to methamphetamine dealing in two counties in northern Missouri.
In an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, Middleton's attorneys said prosecutors relied on perjured testimony to convict him, and "vital exculpatory evidence" was suppressed at his trial. The appeals court denied the request for a stay of execution on Monday.
The case involves the murders 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 claim that the actual killers were other meth dealers who were exacting revenge on the supposed snitches. (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Jim Loney)