Current execution debate tied up in court fight
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Lawyers for 21 death row inmates and the state attorney general’s office will square off in federal court on Oct. 7, in a case where the inmates have challenged the state’s execution protocol.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey twice has denied state motions to stop the case, which is in federal court because the state transferred it there almost a year ago, after the inmates first filed it in Cole County circuit court on June 26, 2012.
The inmates’ lawyers filed the suit after the state changed its execution protocol in May 2012, following a previous court challenge to the state’s previous protocol.
The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals had dismissed that lawsuit in early May last year, after it determined that one of the drugs used in the Corrections department’s execution protocol no longer was available, so there was no need for the courts to block its use.
Corrections Director George Lombardi changed the protocol a week later, replacing the unavailable sodium thiopental — the anesthetic drug used at the beginning of the execution to render the prisoner unconscious — with a combination of propofol and lidocaine.
In the original lawsuit, the plaintiffs said: “Execution using propofol as the lethal agent has never been tried by a single state, nor by any country or other sovereign.”
The lawsuit also argued that the amount of propofol ordered in the execution protocol is “approximately 15 times the quantity (that) health-care professionals typically use for inducing anesthesia in adult patients.”
And, it said, “There are unlikely to be any clinical studies of the severity of pain produced by such a massive dose of propofol.”
In rejecting the state’s motions to end the lawsuit, Judge Laughrey said the inmates’ concerns about the use of propofol and lidocaine were topics for a full-blown hearing.
Until the federal court issues a ruling in the case, the state Supreme Court has said, it won’t set new execution dates for any of the inmates, as Attorney General Chris Koster has asked.
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