Saturday, 24 November 2007

Inmate challenges sedatives used before lethal injections

Associated Press Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. --Another Kentucky death row inmate has challenged lethal injection, this time claiming that giving an inmate a sedative on the day of his execution interferes with the deadly three-drug cocktail.

Gregory L. Wilson, 51, also claims that inmates cannot make an intelligent choice between lethal injection and electrocution because the state does not provide enough information about its protocol for each method.

Wilson's challenge, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Frankfort, is at least the fourth in Kentucky.

It comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to hear arguments from two other Kentucky death row inmates who claim the three lethal injection drugs used by 36 states violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Justices have scheduled arguments in January in the lawsuit brought by Ralph S. Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling. The ruling, expected by June, could affect how those states carry out executions.

Wilson's challenge includes many of the same issues raised by Baze and Bowling. He isn't challenging the constitutionality of the law; rather Wilson is challenging the method Kentucky uses to carry out the law.

In previous cases, the state has denied that lethal injection causes pain and that its protocol is unconstitutional. State offices were closed Friday and e-mail messages left at the Kentucky Justice Cabinet were not immediately returned.

Wilson was condemned to death on Oct. 31, 1988 in Kenton County for kidnapping and murdering Deborah Pooley a year earlier. Prosecutors said Wilson and Brenda Humphrey forced Pooley into the back seat of her car, then Wilson raped and strangled Pooley while Humphrey, 53, drove around.

Wilson's attorneys say the state offers a condemned inmate a Valium as a sedative. An offer of Valium or another anti-anxiety drug is done in at least 19 of the country's 38 death penalty states.

"If Plaintiff refuses to take Valium prior to his execution, Defendants will force him to do so if Defendants determine that Valium should be administered," attorneys Daniel T. Goyette and Bill Sharp wrote.

Sedatives interfere with the effectiveness of sodium thiopental, a fast-acting barbiturate used during lethal injection that renders an inmate unconscious, Wilson's attorneys claim in the challenge.

The other two drugs used are pancuronium bromide, which causes paralysis, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.

Wilson also wants U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell to force the state to show inmates its now-secret protocols for electrocution and lethal injection.

In Kentucky, inmates who were sentenced to death before 1998 can choose lethal injection or electrocution. If they do not choose, the decision defaults to lethal injection.

Wilson claims that choice is impossible without seeing the protocols and procedures used by the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

"In order to make a knowing and intelligent choice between lethal injection and electrocution, death sentenced inmates must have an opportunity to review the entire execution procedures for both methods," Goyette and Sharp wrote.

Calls to Wilson's attorneys were not immediately returned Friday.

Wilson, who is housed at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, currently has an appeal pending before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and previously served a prison sentence in Ohio for two rapes. Humphrey is serving a 999-year sentence at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Pewee Valley.

Along with the challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, Kentucky inmates have sued over how the state acquires the drugs used in a lethal injection, and three other inmates have sued in federal court claiming lethal injection is unconstitutional.

Kentucky has 38 men and one woman on death row. The state has executed two people since 1976.

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