Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Lethal Injection Is Constitutional

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky is moving toward its first executions in seven years after the state Supreme Court ruled the state's lethal injection method is constitutional.

The governor and attorney general will review cases of Death Row inmates and could begin executions in Kentucky for the first time since 1999 and the third time since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Kentucky Death Row inmates Thomas Clyde Bowling, 52, and Ralph Baze, 49, challenged the state's method of executing condemned prisoners in 2004, saying the drug formula used amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The state has not declared a moratorium on executions but had not scheduled any since the lawsuit was filed. Bowling and Baze have received several stays of execution because of the court challenge.

The ruling could mean both Bowling and Baze will have dates set for their executions.

"We have moved the process forward and, at the appropriate time, will seek a warrant for execution from the Governor,"

Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo said in a news release Wednesday. Jodi Whitaker, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ernie Fletcher, said Jim Deckard, the governor's executive counsel, will review the cases of Bowling, Baze and any other inmate who has exhausted his appeals, then make recommendations to the governor.

Affirming a lower court ruling issued after a lengthy trial last year, the Supreme Court said the judge in that case made no errors.

"It is not the role of this Court to investigate the political, moral, ethical, religious or personal views of those on each side of this issue. ... We are limited in deciding only whether the method defined by the Legislature and signed into law by the Executive, survives constitutional review," Justice Donald C.

Wintersheimer wrote in the unanimous opinion, issued from Frankfort.
Bowling and Baze challenged lethal injection, saying the drug formula used amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because inmates feel pain during the process. The men filed the suit shortly after Bowling was scheduled to die Nov. 30, 2004.

Since then, the two men have received several stays of execution. David Barron, the public defender for both Bowling and Baze, called the ruling disappointing, but said there are other challenges to lethal injection pending. Barron said he will ask the high court for a rehearing and appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

"Today's decision from the Kentucky Supreme court neither goes into an in-depth analysis, nor alleviates any of the concerns out there," Barron said. "We are concerned with making sure that any execution carried out is done in a constitutional manner."

Jeff Middendorf, general counsel for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said the Department of Corrections is ready to comply with any orders from the governor.

"If the governor were to issue an execution warrant, we are certainly prepared to carry that out," Middendorf said.

Bowling was sentenced to be executed for killing Edward and Tina Earley and shooting their 2-year-old son outside the couple's Lexington dry-cleaning business in 1990. Baze was convicted of killing Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe during an attempted arrest in 1992.

Kentucky, like many states, uses a four-drug combination that includes Valium, which is designed to relax the inmate; sodium thiopental, which is designed to render the inmate unconscious; and pancuronium bromide, also known as Pavulon, which paralyzes the inmate. The final drug injected, potassium chloride, causes a heart attack.

Two other Death Row inmates, Brian Keith Moore and James Earl Slaughter, are challenging Kentucky's method of lethal injection in federal court. That case is pending.

Kentucky, which has 39 death-row inmates, has executed two men
since reinstating the death penalty in 1976, and only one by injection: Eddie Lee Harper, in 1999. Injection is the only method of execution used on inmates who have been condemned since 1998; those sentenced to death earlier can choose electrocution.
Associated Press writer Joe Biesk in Frankfort contributed to
this report.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)