Continuing to kill inmates by lethal injection while the method is in question would be inhumane.
With judicial review of the constitutionality of lethal injection looming, there should be no rush to put Christopher Scott Emmett to death.
Emmett, who beat a sleeping co-worker to death with a lamp six years ago in a Danville motel, is the only one of 20 inmates on Virginia's death row with a scheduled execution date -- Wednesday at 9 p.m.
But the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider whether the method of lethal injection used by Virginia and many other states violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Emmett's attorneys have asked Gov. Tim Kaine to delay the execution until the Supreme Court makes its decision.
The clock is ticking. Kaine should grant the delay and stop all other state executions until the high court rules.
A court ruling likely won't be made until next year, possibly as late as the summer. Proceeding with state executions when the legality of lethal injections is in question would be inhumane.
Emmett's attorneys have attempted to bolster their request for a delay with a claim that the state bungled last year's execution of John Yancey Schmitt.
Attorneys argue that Schmitt lingered too long in pain and agony when he was put to death by lethal injection, a claim disputed by the state.
But, if true, it would substantiate the argument that death by a three-chemical cocktail -- one that puts the inmate into a deep sleep, followed by a second that stops breathing by paralyzing the diaphragm and lungs, and a final chemical that induces cardiac arrest -- is cruel and unusual punishment.
The concern is that the drug that puts prisoners to sleep wears off before the drug that kills them takes effect, while the paralytic disguises any outward sign of the extreme pain they would feel.
Even before the Supreme Court decided it would use the case of two Kentucky death row inmates to examine the constitutionality of lethal injection, 11 states suspended executions because of concerns about the method's cruelty.
Since the court's announcement, executions have been put on hold in two other states.
Virginia should join that list. To continue lethally injecting inmates now would be cruel and unusual.