Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Alabama changes execution drug combination

MONTGOMERY | Alabama has adopted a new three-drug combination to use in lethal injections, and is seeking to resume executions that had halted because of a drug shortage.
The Alabama attorney general's office on Friday asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set execution dates for nine death row inmates. Lawyers said the Department of Corrections on Sept. 10 adopted a new drug protocol similar to that used by the state of Florida.
The new protocol has been reviewed and upheld by courts in other states and should withstand any challenges of cruel and unusual punishment, a spokeswoman for Gov. Robert Bentley said.
"The Department of Corrections is ready to carry out execution orders once set by the Alabama Supreme Court. The governor is confident the protocol does not violate the Eighth Amendment," said Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis.
Lawyers for the state said Alabama's new drug combination is "virtually identical" to that used by Florida, which has put seven inmates to death this year. It also uses a drug that was used in a botched Oklahoma execution in which an inmate took 43 minutes to die.
The new drug protocol calls for the sequential injections of 500 milligrams of midazolam hydrochloride, a sedative; 600 milligrams of rocuronium bromide, a neuromuscular blocking agent that stops breathing; and 240 "milliequivalents" of potassium chloride to stop the heart.
"Numerous courts have examined Florida's protocol and held it to be constitutional," lawyers for the attorney general's office wrote.
A lawyer for death row inmate Tommy Arthur, who challenged the constitutionality of Alabama's previous drug protocol, criticized the state's action.

"Mr. Arthur's case challenging Alabama's lethal injection protocol is still pending. It is telling that the state seeks to execute Mr. Arthur — with the same drug used in other botched executions — before the court has determined whether such a protocol is constitutional. The state's motion is without merit and we will oppose it," said Susanna Han, Arthur's lead lawyer.
Arthur was convicted of the 1982 murder-for-hire of a Muscle Shoals man and has been previously scheduled for execution.
Alabama last executed an inmate last year and has been unable to carry out lethal injections since running out of pentobarbital, the first drug administered under the old protocol.
Death penalty states have struggled to carry out executions after companies that manufacture sodium thiopental and pentobarbital refused to sell the drugs for lethal injections.
States turned to new mixtures or to compounding pharmacies for the drugs and saw their new procedures challenged as violations of the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
Alabama officials are not saying where they obtained the new drugs or how much they have on hand.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections referred questions to the attorney general's office. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Luther Strange said the office had no additional comment.
Two states, Florida and Oklahoma, have used midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug protocol, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ohio and Arizona have used midazolam in a two-drug protocol.
Midazolam was used in a botched Oklahoma execution earlier this year that drew national scrutiny.
Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett took 43 minutes to die. A report issued by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety found that there were problems with the insertion of Lockett's IV line that delivered the drugs.
The nine inmates the state is seeking to put to death have spent between 16 and 24 years on Alabama's Death Row.
The state is seeking execution dates for Arthur, Demetrius Frazier, Gregory Hunt, William Ernest Kuenzel, Robin Dion Myers, Christopher Lee Price, David Lee Roberts, Anthony Boyd and Christopher Eugene Brooks.

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