LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state improperly adopted the same three-drug lethal injection protocol that was upheld in the nation's highest court and is used by dozens of other states.
The ruling does not challenge the technique of using three drugs to put inmates to death. It only says the state did not follow proper administrative procedures, including public hearings, before putting it in place.
It came just days after state Attorney General Jack Conway requested execution dates for three condemned inmates, one of whom, Ralph Baze, was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Baze, who is awaiting execution for the deaths of a sheriff and deputy, had previously challenged Kentucky's lethal injection method in a case rose all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and led all the states using a similar method to Kentucky to halt lethal injections until it was upheld.
Wednesday's ruling could hold up the executions that the attorney general is trying to schedule. Gov. Steve Beshear had not acted on the requests for three execution dates as of Wednesday morning. Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said the governor's office was reviewing the ruling.
Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson write in a 5-2 decision that state must comply with the Administrative Procedures Act and post public notices and hold hearings before adopting an execution protocol.
Abramson said some details, such as where the drugs are stored and the identities of the execution team members, could be kept private, but the method itself requires a public airing under the law.
Justice Bill Cunningham dissented, saying requiring lethal injection will invite other challenges to electrocution or whatever method the state may adopt in the future. "There is no end to the creative mind of the condemned," Cunningham said. "Our decision here today gives the guilty more time to live. It gives innocent families of the victims more time to suffer."
Justice Will T. Scott also dissented from Abramson's logic and noted that the state has at least 10 inmates who have been on death row more than two decades.
"These cases cry out for closure. The families of the victims cry out for closure," Scott wrote. "The condemned are entitled to closure - not at their own hands, but at the hands of an appropriate judgment."
Courts around the country have split over whether states should have to follow the administrative procedures in adopting a lethal injection protocol. Courts in Maryland, Nebraska and California have found that the administrative procedures requirement applies to lethal injection, while courts in Missouri and Tennessee ruled
that it doesn't.
Baze, 54, was convicted of killing Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and a deputy Arthur Briscoe during an attempted arrest in 1992. Moore, 51, is awaiting execution for the 1979 kidnapping and murder of a Louisville man.
Kentucky has 35 death-row inmates. The state has executed three men since reinstating the death penalty in 1976.
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