Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Supreme Court blocks another lethal injection

A last-minute action by the US Supreme Court to block the lethal injection of a condemned murderer late Tuesday suggested that the nine-member panel intends to block such executions until it rules on the constitutionality of the specific method of capital punishment.

At least five Supreme Court justices voted to halt the execution by the state of Mississippi of Earl Wesley Berry, 48, who confessed to the November 1987 abduction and beating death of Mary Bounds.

It is the second scheduled lethal injection to be blocked by the court since it accepted a Kentucky case that challenges whether lethal injection violates the US Constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that capital punishment is not innately unconstitutional, and the appeal on behalf of death row inmates in Kentucky makes a narrow claim that the three-drug cocktail used for nearly all US executions inflicts undue suffering.

The method is meant to render prisoners unconscious, halt breathing and stop the heart in a three-step process carried out within a few minutes. The Kentucky appeal and similar cases, including Berry's, argue that the condemned may remain conscious but paralyzed and suffering before death from cardiac arrest.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the Kentucky case in January.

"The real inhumanity in this case is that the life of an innocent woman ... was taken 20 years ago, and now justice has been delayed again," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour shortly after the stay-of-execution was announced, the daily Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi reported.

Barry had already eaten his last meal when the Supreme Court's decision reached state prison officials, 19 minutes before his scheduled death.

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