Thursday, 6 September 2007

Attorneys seek U.S. Supreme Court ruling on state's lethal injection protocol

September 5, 2007


Attorneys seek U.S. Supreme Court ruling on state's lethal injection

By TONY RIZZO, The Kansas City Star

Attorneys for a Missouri death-row inmate asked the U.S. Supreme Court on
Wednesday to decide a case that could have nationwide ramifications on
lethal injection procedures.

The court should rule Missouri's procedure is unconstitutionally cruel and
unusual, say attorneys for convicted Kansas City killer Michael A. Taylor.

It's an issue that courts across the country have grappled with for several
years, but it represents the first case to reach the high court after being
fully litigated and reviewed on appeal, according to Taylor's attorneys.

"It therefore offers this court a uniquely well-timed and appropriate
occasion to provide urgently needed guidance to the states and lower
courts," according to Wednesday's petition.

Taylor was one of two men sentenced to death for the 1989 kidnapping, rape
and murder of 15-year-old Ann Harrison, who was snatched from in front of
her Kansas City house while waiting for the school bus.

He was scheduled to be executed early last year, but his legal challenges to
the state's lethal injection procedures put all Missouri executions on hold.

A federal judge in Kansas City initially ruled against the state, but
earlier this summer the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judge
and found that Missouri's plan for carrying out executions does not violate
constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

In Wednesday's filing, Taylor's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to rule on
whether the appeals court erred in its decision.

They said that the case could help clarify "two exceptionally important
questions" concerning the Eighth Amendment and what minimal standards and
safeguards states should be required to adopt in carrying out executions.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon's office declined to comment Wednesday.
Matthew Hellman, one of the attorneys for Taylor, said the state would have
30 days to file a response with the Supreme Court. Hellman anticipates that
the Supreme Court could decide sometime in October whether it will take the

The issues raised in Taylor's case have been mirrored in other courts across
the country and hinge on the sequence of three drugs used to put inmates to
death in 37 of the 38 states that have capital punishment.

The argument is that if the first drug, a sedative that renders the inmate
unconscious, is not administered properly or in sufficient dosage, it will
leave the person awake and susceptible to excruciating pain from the
subsequent drugs.

Because the second drug in the sequence acts to paralyze the inmate's
muscles, observers would not be able to tell that the inmates were
suffering, critics have argued.

In its ruling, the 8th Circuit court said that Missouri's written protocol
"renders any risk of pain far too remote to be constitutionally


Taylor, 40, is one of 44 death row inmates in the state, according to the
Missouri Department of Corrections.


Source : Kansas City Star (To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send
e-mail to

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