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Condemned killer seeks to block execution

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With a scheduled execution little more than two weeks away, attorneys for Death Row inmate Eric Scott Branch appealed to the Florida Supreme Court on Monday after an Escambia County circuit judge refused a request for a stay.

Branch, now 46, was sentenced to death in the 1993 sexual assault and murder of University of West Florida student Susan Morris.

Gov. Rick Scott last month scheduled Branch’s execution for Feb. 22. In seeking the stay in circuit court, Branch’s attorneys argued, in part, that Branch was 21 at the time of the murder and that brain development continues into the mid-20s.

They argued people in their early 20s are “cognitively comparable to juveniles under the age of 18,” Judge Edward P. Nickinson III wrote Thursday in an order denying the motion for a stay.

The argument was based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that barred the death penalty for people under age 18 because it would violate an Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

But Nickinson wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling had established a “bright line” of age 18.

“This Court must construe the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in conformity with decisions of the United States Supreme Court,” Nickinson wrote.

Branch’s attorneys last week also asked the Florida Supreme Court for a stay of execution while he appeals another issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Florida Supreme Court had not ruled on that request as of Monday afternoon.