Just last week, the appeals court was given a similar appeal for Carlton Turner Jr., a Dallas man set to die for killing his parents, but refused to stop his punishment. The Supreme Court, which last week agreed to review whether lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel in a claim raised by two condemned Kentucky inmates, gave Turner a reprieve a few hours later, sparing him a trip to the nation's busiest death chamber in Huntsville.
The Kentucky lethal injection procedure is the same one used by Texas and other states. Although Chi's lawyers were prepared to go to the Supreme Court, his appeal never got that far.
"I'm grateful there's some measure of common sense descending on the great state of Texas," Wes Ball, Chi's attorney, said. "We're not left in the wilderness."
Chi would have been the 27th inmate executed in Texas this year, far more than any other state.
"We're actually joining the company of perhaps more progressive states like Alabama and Florida," Ball said. "Somebody's finally going to decide this question, so let's stop killing people. If we're supposed to kill them, we can kill them later."
In its brief order, the appeals court gave state lawyers 30 days to address the question of "whether the current method of administering lethal injection in Texas constitutes cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
In their appeal, Chi's attorneys said the execution procedure "creates a wholly unnecessary, unacceptable risk that he will experience excruciating pain and suffering."
The Texas Attorney General's Office has said it will review each condemned inmate with an approaching execution date on a case-by-case basis. Gov. Rick Perry, who could issue a 30-day reprieve, has said through a spokesman that the matter is for the courts to resolve but also has said he believes the procedure is proper.
Early last week, within hours of the Supreme Court announcement in the Kentucky case, the courts allowed Texas officials to execute Michael Richard for a slaying 21 years ago. Lawyers attributed his execution moving forward to procedural hurdles they couldn't overcome in the hours immediately after the high court announced its Kentucky review. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals never ruled in his case because the appeal was filed past the court's 5 p.m. closing time.
In Turner's case, the Texas court voted 5-4 against stopping his punishment. The order in Chi's reprieve listed no dissenters among the judges.
Attorneys involved in death penalty litigation viewed Chi's case as a better indicator of the immediate future of lethal injection in Texas, where 405 inmates have received the toxic drug combinaton since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.
Earlier Tuesday, Terence O'Rourke, a lawyer in the Chi case working with the government of Honduras, lost a request to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for a commutation request or 180-day reprieve.
O'Rourke's focus was on Chi's inability to contact someone from the Honduran government, a violation of an international treaty, after he was arrested for the 2001 slaying of Armand Paliotta.
The board voted Tuesday 7-0 against a request for commutation. The request for a 180-day reprieve failed in a 4-3 vote.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, ruling in a suit Mexico filed against the United States, has said the convictions of about 50 Mexican-born prisoners violated the 1963 Vienna Convention because they were denied legal help available under the treaty. President Bush then ordered new state court hearings for those prisoners based on the ruling, but his order applies only to imprisoned Mexican citizens.