Thursday, 9 August 2007

Court Declines to Rehear Appeal on Missouri Capital Punishment

Court Declines to Rehear Appeal on Missouri Capital Punishment

Published: August 9, 2007

ST. LOUIS, Aug. 8 (AP) — A federal appeals court has refused to re-enter a case on whether Missouri’s lethal injection method of capital punishment is constitutional.

The court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, on Tuesday denied a request by a condemned inmate, Michael Taylor, to reconsider the question in the wake of a ruling in June by a three-member panel of the court. Those judges ruled that Missouri’s execution procedure was not cruel and unusual punishment.

That ruling overturned another judge’s decision to ban executions in the state until the lethal injection process was reformed.

Mr. Taylor’s lawyer, Ginger Anders, said on Wednesday that she would appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

While the Supreme Court accepts only a few of the thousands of cases it is asked to review each year, “this has a better shot than most,” Ms. Anders said. “It’s an extremely important issue, one that is going on in a lot of states.”

A Kansas City federal judge’s order last year to suspend executions could be lifted within a week, freeing the Missouri Supreme Court to set execution dates.

But if Mr. Taylor asks, and the appeals court agrees, the moratorium could continue while the United States Supreme Court decides whether to hear his case.

Brian Hauswirth, a State Corrections Department spokesman, called the appeals court’s decision “another step toward resolution of the legal challenges to lethal injection.”

Mr. Taylor’s case had prompted a federal judge last year to place a moratorium on executions in Missouri. The judge, Fernando Gaitan Jr. of Federal District Court, said he wanted to be sure that the three-drug injection method did not cause risk of pain and suffering.

Judge Gaitan wanted the state to involve a doctor specializing in anesthesia, but the state has been unable to find such a doctor willing to participate.

The three-judge appeals panel on June 4 reversed Judge Gaitan’s ruling, saying the state’s execution protocol “is designed to ensure a quick, indeed a painless, death.”

Mr. Taylor’s lawyer argued that the panel focused too narrowly on the protocol rather than how it was carried out or any accidents or mistakes by staff that might result.

Days after the June ruling opened the way for restarting executions in Missouri, the state’s attorney general, Jay Nixon, asked the State Supreme Court to set execution dates for 10 condemned inmates, more than one-fifth of the state’s 44 death row inmates.

The debate centers on the three drugs used in executions. The argument is that if the initial anesthetic does not take hold, a third drug that stops the heart can be excruciatingly painful. But the inmate would not be able to communicate the pain because of a second drug that paralyzes him.

Missouri is among several states that has suspended executions as they consider whether lethal injection is inhumane.

Mr. Taylor was convicted of killing a 15-year-old girl in 1989 after kidnapping her from a school bus stop. He was hours from execution in 2006 when the procedure was halted.

Missouri has not executed an inmate since October.

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