Supreme Court Hears Case From KY Death Row Inmates

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court appeared divided Monday over whether the drugs commonly injected to execute prisoners risk
causing excruciating pain in violation of the Constitution.
Several justices indicated a willingness to preserve the three-drug cocktail that is authorized by three dozen states that allow executions. Such a decision would allow lethal injections, on hold since late September, to resume quickly.
Justice Antonin Scalia said states have been careful to adopt
procedures that do not seek to inflict pain and should not be barred from carrying out executions even if prison officials sometimes make mistakes in administering drugs.
"There is no painless requirement" in the Constitution, Scalia said. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito also indicated their
support for the states' procedures.
Other members of the court, who have raised questions about lethal injection in the past, said they are bothered by the procedures used in Kentucky and elsewhere in which three drugs are administered in succession to knock out, paralyze and kill prisoners.
The argument against the three-drug protocol is that if the initial anesthetic does not take hold, a third drug that stops the heart can cause excruciating pain. The second drug, meanwhile, paralyzes the prisoner, rendering him unable to express his discomfort.
"I'm terribly troubled by the fact that the second drug is what seems to cause all the risk of excruciating pain, and seems to be almost totally unnecessary," said Justice John Paul Stevens.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often plays a decisive role on the
closely divided court, gave little indication of his views.
The case before the court comes from Kentucky, in which two
death row inmates are not asking to be spared execution or death by
injection. Instead, they want the court to order a switch to a single drug, a barbiturate, that causes no pain and can be given in a large enough dose to cause death.
At the very least, they are asking for tighter controls on the three-drug process to ensure that the anesthetic is given properly. A decision should come by late June.
Justice Stephen Breyer seemed to capture the discomfort of the
court, which has upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment.
"There is a risk of human error generally where you're talking
about the death penalty, and this may be one extra problem," Breyer said. "But the question here is can we say that there is a more serious problem here than with other execution methods?"
Donald Verrilli, a Washington lawyer who is a veteran of capital
cases, offered the court examples of executions in California and
North Carolina in which inmates appeared to suffer pain as they were being put to death.
He said the best way to avoid repetition was to switch to a single drug, as veterinarians commonly use in putting animals to sleep.
"The risk here is real," Verrilli said. "That is why in the state of Kentucky it is unlawful to euthanize animals the way" the state executes inmates, he said.
Roy Englert, who typically argues business cases before the
Supreme Court, said on behalf of Kentucky that the one-drug method
has never been used in executions. The Bush administration also
took Kentucky's side.
Englert also defended the state's practices as humane. Kentucky
regularly trains its execution team and employs an experienced worker to insert the intravenous lines through which the drugs are administered, he said.
The state's lone execution by lethal injection did not present any obvious problems, both sides agreed.
The court may decide the Kentucky case is not the right one to settle the constitutionality of the three-drug procedure and leave that issue for another death penalty case.
Justice David Souter, however, urged his colleagues to take the time necessary to issue a definitive decision about the three-drug
method in this case, even if it means sending the case back to Kentucky for more study by courts there.
Scalia, however, said such a move would mean "a national
cessation of executions" that could last for years. "You wouldn't
want that to happen," he said.
Recent executions in Florida and Ohio took much longer than usual, with strong indications that the prisoners suffered severe pain in the process. Workers had trouble inserting the IV lines that are used to deliver the drugs.
Lined up in front of the court waiting to attend the arguments, college students Jeremy Sperling and Gira Joshi said they oppose the death penalty, but regard making executions less painful and more humane as a worthy goal.
"You have the right to die with dignity," said Joshi, a political science and religion major at New Jersey's Rutgers University. Sperling, a psychology and religion major at New York University, said serving a life prison term is the appropriate alternative to the death penalty.
After Monday's court session, the brother of a victim of one Kentucky prisoner said the case already has dragged on too long. Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett was shot to death by Ralph Baze
in 1992.
"Ralph Baze was tried. The death penalty was what he got and he
chose lethal injection," said Orville Bennett of Beattyville, Ky.

"And we need to just get this over with."

The case is Baze v. Rees, 07-5439.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • by no name Location: carlisle on Jan 10, 2008 at 04:00 PM
    there are 3349 on death roll it cost about $40000.00 to keep them a year or about.if they are proven gillty with in a 90 day period let them gave a date with the gurner and go on with life.the pain will be over after all that will ease the victi ms family .and the money save could go to a very good cause.that my opinion
  • by Jack Location: Pike County on Jan 10, 2008 at 08:15 AM
    Where the !!! do they get off. It's understood that if you do the crime, you do the time, or pay the price. Now that they've been caught and sentenced they want to whine and cry like little babies, if you've got the guts to do the crime then suck it up and do the punishment.
  • by fyi on Jan 10, 2008 at 07:46 AM
    Tudor, there are no death row prisoners in the Castle on the Cumberland. They are all in Eddyville. To C in FKT I think it would be nice to pick were our taxes go- I wouldnt pay for these people or the welfare people.
  • by c Location: fkt on Jan 10, 2008 at 05:47 AM
    I agree with most of the posts here! These murders should not have a right to question how they die. I do not feel that any murderer should have any rights whatsoever. I agree that the judges, lawyers and the other bleeding hearts against the death penalty should have to fit the entire bill for keeping these murderers alive! After all, put your money where your mouth is or shut up! That way my tax dollars can go to help the children and elderly that need it instead of a bunch of murderers! The supreme court is like the rest of government..out of touch with what the majority of people want! These criminals are not doing anyone any good, so why not get rid of them. Give me the gun and the right to go into the prisons and I will rid the world of them quickly and inexpensively thereby saving the taxpayers millions of dollars! Lethel injections are just too easy & pain free for the majority of these murderers! They should be executed by a firing squad, then let the bleeding hearts complain!
  • by Freda Location: Ky on Jan 10, 2008 at 05:11 AM
    What we need is a law changed to enforce the death penalty within a limited time too many people have too many years to look for a way out. If you Kill you will be Killed.
  • by Chuck Location: Bluegrass on Jan 9, 2008 at 09:01 PM
    Let's ask the victims if what happened to them was cruel and unusual. Let's ask them if their constitutional rights were violated as they lived for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let's just kill them the way they chose to kill another.
  • by mary Location: hazard on Jan 9, 2008 at 06:26 PM
    why should we worry about pain in the death penalty they deserve and more we should worry about the vicitms we should killed them just as they do their prey, or put a tight rope around their neck and hang them from the highest oak tree do unto the as they do to their victims
  • by Jethro Location: Rat Cheer on Jan 9, 2008 at 06:44 AM
    I think the Supreme Court needs to read the 8th amendment again. It gives protection against cruel AND (not or) unusual punishment. It is intended to keep courts from sentencing someone to hard time for petty crime. Since all the states that have the death penalty offer lethal injection, except one, then that makes it usual, NOT unusual. Therefore lethal injection cannot by definition be cruel AND unusual. When reading this it becomes obvious that Baze has resolved himself to his fate, yet his lawyer continues to drag it out. He is going to milk this as long as it pays, and make a tearful speech minutes after Baze is dead. Then he will go home, eat dinner, sleep like a baby, wake refreshed, and go hunting ambulances for his next victim. Rein in the lawyers by making them abide by the constitution and the criminals will no longer have free reign.
  • by Brad Location: Lexington on Jan 8, 2008 at 09:06 PM
    Well said Carolyn! I 110% agree.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 8, 2008 at 08:19 PM
    you get more out of a speeding ticket then u do murder. i seen some in here got on 5 years for murder..what a joke..


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