Tennessee’s lethal injection procedures are constitutional, judge rules

Usage of lethal injection for executions in th...
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Protocol declared sufficient

A Davidson County judge ruled Wednesday that the state’s new lethal injection procedures are sufficient and constitutional.

Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman’s decision clears the way for the state to ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to reset the execution date for death row inmate Stephen Michael West. But defense attorneys said they would appeal Bonnyman’s ruling, which guarantees additional delays.

In November, 10 days before the Union County double murderer was to be executed in a Nashville prison, his lawyers argued that inmates are awake and in pain during the execution when given the drugs that paralyze the muscles and stop the heart. Bonnyman agreed and said the method of execution was unconstitutional because it allowed for “death by suffocation while the prisoner is conscious.”

In the state’s three-drug cocktail, the first drug, sodium thiopental, is supposed to render the inmate unconscious. Next, the inmate is given pancuronium bromide to paralyze the muscles, then potassium chloride to stop the heart.

After Bonnyman agreed with the evidence presented by the inmates’ lawyers, the state responded with the protocol to determine consciousness.

After sodium thiopental is shot through a prisoner’s veins to knock him unconscious, the warden will call out his name, shake him and brush his eyelashes. If the inmate showed a response, the warden would administer a second dose.

The check for consciousness “seems to take care of the problem,” Bonnyman said Wednesday.

Judge cites other states

In reaching that conclusion, the judge noted that 19 of the 36 states that use the three-drug lethal injection cocktail perform the consciousness checks. Bonnyman also said other higher courts nationwide have found the checks by the warden to be sufficient.

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