Judge orders temporary halt to executions in Mississippi

26 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Death penalty halted for prisoner after judge asks if lethal injection is painful.

JACKSON, Miss. – A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the state of Mississippi from using two drugs in executions, shutting down the death penalty in the state for now. The 69-year-old along with another death row inmate have alleged the combination of drugs Mississippi has been using in lethal injections could cause them great pain before killing them. District Judge Henry Wingate’s temporary injunction declaring that the state can’t use pentobarbital or midazolam — both of them deployed to render prisoners unconscious — in its three-drug lethal cocktail. Jordan’s lawyers in New Orleans had asked the judge to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the setting of an execution date until he rules on the lawsuit. In any event, they said, pentobarbital doesn’t meet the state’s own standard of an “ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug.” If the inmate isn’t sufficiently anesthetized, they argued, “the chemical paralytic agent and potassium chloride used as the second and third drugs will cause conscious suffocation and intense internal burning.” Mississippi subsequently said it would use midazolam instead of pentobarbital, but Wingate’s order indicated he didn’t find that acceptable, either.

Mississippi, like several other states, has had difficulty conducting executions because of a nationwide shortage of pentobarbital and legally acceptable substitutes. We feel strongly that the district court misapplied the law.” Following a number of botched executions America’s death row units have found it increasingly difficult to obtain the deadly injections due to a European-led boycott on such sales.

The controversy surrounding the use of such methods has recently gained momentum after European manufacturers, including the Denmark-based maker of pentobarbital, banned US prisons from using their drugs for executions. In January, Ohio scrapped its new combination of midazolam and hydromorphone after an inmate appeared to gasp for air during the 26 minutes it took him to die. Jordan was convicted of fatally shooting 33-year-old Edwina Marter shortly after kidnapping her for $50,000 ransom in Gulfport, Mississippi, on Jan. 12, 1976. Grace Simmons Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, wrote in an email that the order bars the state from using any drug to execute a condemned inmate. It came after convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett convulsed, clenched his teeth and struggle to talk on the execution table before officials moved in to block the view of witnesses.

But evidence demonstrated that she was kneeling in front of Jordan when he shot her in the back of the head in northern Harrison County, Mississippi, prosecutors said. Hood’s office asked the state Supreme Court in July to set a Thursday execution for convicted murderer Richard Jordan, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, but the state court never acted. The suit questions whether Mississippi could safely mix an effective form of the anesthetic pentobarbital, the first of three drugs used in the state’s lethal injections.

The suit says there’s no guarantee Mississippi can mix a safe and effective anesthetic to knock out prisoners, and even then, prisoners could remain conscious during execution. Midazolam has been implicated in troubled executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma that went on longer than expected as inmates gasped and made other sounds.

But employing midazolam for lethal injections in Mississippi is as problematic as using pentobarbital, according to Jordan’s legal team, led by the director of New Orleans’ MacArthur Justice Center, Jim Craig. He said midazolam is not even a barbiturate. “It breaks all of our hearts, all these years, that (Jordan) hasn’t left the picture,” Marter’s sister, Norma de Gruy Wells, 73, of Metairie, said recently. “He’s in the picture.

Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam in executions didn’t violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Craig has also pursued parallel lawsuits claiming the prison system is breaking state public records law by refusing to release documents on execution drug procurement.

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