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Delaware killer asks judge not to delay execution

WILMINGTON, Del. — The attorney for a Delaware death row inmate facing execution this week asked a federal judge on Monday to reject an attempt by the convicted killer’s estranged sister to stop the execution.

Shannon Johnson has waived his right to further appeals of his conviction and death sentence and faces death by lethal injection on Friday.

Federal public defenders are trying for the second time to intervene in the case without Johnson’s consent, arguing on behalf of Johnson’s sister that he is mentally incompetent and should not be executed.

But Johnson’s lawyer said in a letter to U.S. Chief District Court Judge Gregory Sleet that she spoke with Johnson on Monday, and that he remains committed to proceeding with his execution.

Attorney Jennifer-Kate Aaronson told Sleet that Johnson has been estranged from his sister, Lakeisha Ford, for two years and that he did not authorize her attempt to intervene in the case as his “next friend.”

Aaronson also said the evidence that federal defenders purport to have of Johnson’s mental retardation was considered and rejected by state Superior Court Judge M. Jane Brady during a six-day competency hearing.

Aaronson also pointed out that the federal court last year ordered the federal public defender’s office not to intervene in any legal matter involving Johnson without specific court permission.

Aaronson did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday.

Julie Brain, chief of the capital habeas unit in the federal public defender’s office, also did not immediately respond to email and phone messages seeking comment.

Federal public defenders argued in a court filing submitted late Friday that Johnson suffers from a debilitating combination of mental disorders, including mental illness and severe brain damage.

“He is also a person with mental retardation, and is therefore categorically ineligible to be put to death,” they wrote.

Johnson was sentenced to death for the 2006 murder of Cameron Hamlin, 25, who was shot after Johnson found him sitting in a car with Johnson’s ex-girlfriend near downtown Wilmington. Johnson later shot the former girlfriend, but she survived.

After the state Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence in 2009, Johnson said he did not want to pursue any further appeals.

But federal public defenders subsequently tried to intervene in Johnson’s case without his consent, arguing that he was mentally incompetent. After Brady refused to allow them to participate in the state court competency hearing, they defied her order to turn over their files on Johnson to state prosecutors and to Johnson’s state court attorneys.

Sleet last year ordered the federal public defenders to turn over their files to state prosecutors and defense attorneys. He also voided their appointments to represent Johnson, declaring that they had misled the federal court into believing that they were acting with his knowledge and consent.

In February, Brady, citing reports from several mental health experts, declared that Johnson was not mentally disabled, was mentally competent to waive his right to further appeals, and that he understood the legal consequences of that decision.

But in their court filing Friday, federal public defenders challenged the validity of Brady’s ruling, saying it was based on a flawed court proceeding “at which the decks were heavily stacked against findings of incompetency or mental retardation.”