The United States Supreme Court has blocked the execution of condemned triple-killer Mark Christeson less than three hours before he was to die.

Mark Christeson (courtesy; Missouri Department of Corrections)

Mark Christeson (courtesy; Missouri Department of Corrections)

Christeson and prison officials got the word shortly before 10 o’clock last night that the court had accepted one of the two appeals before it.   Justice Samuel Alito had previously rejected a challenge to the drug protocol used in executions.  Similar appeals have gone nowhere in the past.

Critics of the way Christeson’s attorneys have handled the case say the attorneys missed a deadline for seeking federal review by almost four months and did not even meet with Christeson for the first time until one month after the deadline.

The appeals do not dispute his conviction for murdering a Vichy-area woman, her son and her daughter, and throwing their bodies into a central Missouri farm pond in 1998. They focus on the failure of his attorneys to file for federal review of the convictions and sentences. The challenge, filed by three St. Louis University law professors and supported by a number of former state and federal appeals court judges say the continued presence of the two attorneys as representatives of Christeson is a conflict of interest.

Some recent executions in Missouri were delayed for a matter of hours by a court stay but were carried out before the execution warrant from the state Supreme Court expired.  Corrections Department spokesman Mike O’Connell says that won’t be the case this time.

“This is not something that was going to be cleared up in the next 24 hours, and so we would break down for the night,” O’Connell tells Missourinet.  “Everybody go home, and we’ll wait.  This is something that will have to be taken up in court.”

Once the execution warrant is allowed to expire at midnight tonight, the state Supreme Court would have to issue a new one for Christeson’s execution to be carried out.  The Court normally allows inmates and their lawyers thirty days to make final appeals after such a warrant is issued before the execution is carried out.

The U. S. court appears divided on the issue. Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia favored refusing to consider whether Christeson’s lawyers, as critics put it, “blew the case.”  The court has not said when it will further take up the matter.

Missouri’s next scheduled execution is that of Leonard Taylor, set for November 19, for the 1994 murder of a man working at a gas station that he robbed.

AUDIO: O’Connell interview 2:53