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Rulings may change lethal injection process

September 22, 2007|From the Associated Press

nashville -- A federal judge's ruling Wednesday that Tennessee's lethal injection procedure could cause excruciating pain is another blow to the three-drug cocktail used by every state that executes by lethal injection.

Federal judges reached similar conclusions in Missouri and California last year, and now states have to decide whether to defend the three-drug method or find a new way to put inmates to death by injection.

Death penalty opponents were heartened that three federal judges in three different states made similar findings.

"It's definitely encouraging to know they're looking at this," said John Holdridge, director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project. "I think there will be a general consensus one day soon" that the method is inhumane.

But Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that the rulings represented only temporary delays, and that executions could resume if states were able to fix their protocols.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said Friday that he had not decided whether to appeal U.S. District Judge Aleta Arthur Trauger's ruling that the state's procedure was cruel and unusual because of the "substantial risk of unnecessary pain."

The 37 states that perform lethal injections use the cocktail.

The three drugs are an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer, and a substance to stop the heart. Death penalty foes have argued that if the condemned was not given enough anesthetic, he could suffer excruciating pain without being able to cry out.

The ruling came for death row inmate Edward Jerome Harbison, scheduled to be executed for killing an elderly woman in 1983. Trauger said he could not be put to death until the state adopted a valid method of execution.

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