Tuesday, September 25, 2007 12:18:23 PM By PETE YOST
The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections in a case that could affect the way inmates are executed around the country.
The high court will hear a challenge from two inmates on death row in Kentucky -- Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. -- who sued Kentucky in 2004, claiming lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
Baze has been scheduled for execution Tuesday night, but the Kentucky Supreme Court halted the proceedings earlier this month.
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously made it easier for death row inmates to contest the lethal injections used across the country for executions.
But until Tuesday, the justices had never agreed to consider the fundamental question of whether the mix of drugs used in Kentucky and elsewhere violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
All 37 states that perform lethal injections use the same three-drug cocktail, but at least 11 states suspended its use after opponents alleged it was ineffective and cruel. The three drugs consist of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer, and a substance to stop the heart. Death penalty foes have argued that if the condemned prisoner is not given enough anesthetic, he can suffer excruciating pain without being able to cry out.
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled last week that Tennessee's method of lethal injection is unconstitutional and ordered the state not to execute a death row inmate. The state is still deciding whether to appeal the judge's ruling, but agreed to stop a pending execution.
A ruling from California in the case of convicted killer Michael Morales resulted in the statewide suspension of executions.
States began using lethal injection in 1978 as an alternative to the historic methods of execution: electrocution, gassing, hanging and shooting. Since the death penalty resumed in 1977, 790 of 958 executions have been by injection.
Baze and Bowling sued in 2004 and a trial was held the following spring. A state judge upheld the use of lethal injection and the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed that decision. The appeal taken up Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court stems from that decision.
"This is probably one of the most important cases in decades as it relates to the death penalty," said David Barron, the public defender who represents Baze and Bowling.
Baze, 52, has been on death row for 14 years. He was sentenced for the 1992 shooting deaths of Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe.
Bennett and Briscoe were serving warrants on Baze when he shot them. Baze has said the shootings were the result of a family dispute that got out of hand and resulted in the sheriff being called.
Bowling was sentenced to death for killing Edward and Tina Earley and shooting their 2-year-old son outside the couple's Lexington, Ky., dry-cleaning business in 1990. Bowling was scheduled to die in November 2004, but a judge stopped it after Bowling and Baze sued over the constitutionality of lethal injection.
Associated Press writer Brett Barrouquere reported from Louisville, Ky.
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This really depends IMO if how the lethal injection has been done. I recall hearing stories about them taking hours, and that is cruel and unusual punishment, but as long as the death penalty is around, if a lethal injection is done right, it is the best way for the death penalty to be carried out.
I gotta agree with AFF here. Done right, lethal ejection is the least cruel and most peaceful way of initiating the death penalty. Lets take a look at some past ways of carrying out the death penalty.
Burned alive Burned in hot oil to death hung electrocuted to death beheaded shot
Aside from a good shot, all of those seem nastier to me than lethal injection. Like deeray said, all death penalties will be opposed, but lethal injection done right seems the one that is to be least challenged imo...
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i don't really support the death penalty. not to say that some people don't deserve it. i just think it's an antiquated way of dealing with criminals. i'm all for a clockwork orange type of rehabilitation.
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A lot of this article I believe and have heard before, like the shot paralyzes the condemned person and has such excruciating pain but they cannot move or show any response so people think that it's painless while it may truly be very painful. I've kind of been back and forth on the issue of capital punishment for years but I think if there's any doubt that this could cause excruciating pain then it should not be used. At least until the issue gets cleared up.