Thursday, 1 November 2007

Judge to review lethal injection

Thursday, November 1, 2007

COLUMBUS A judge can hold hearings on whether Ohio’s lethal injection procedures are constitutional, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a case that could determine the fate of the state’s process for executing condemned inmates.

The court ruled 5-2 that Judge James Burge of Lorain County Common Pleas Court has the authority to hold the hearings and to order the state to turn over documents related to the execution process.

The court rejected the state’s argument that Burge, as the presiding judge of a criminal trial, does not have the authority to decide the constitutionality of death penalty law.

Depending on how the hearings proceed, Wednesday’s decision could provide the most complete look to date at how Ohio puts inmates to death.

Burge has ordered the state to produce detailed explanations of the equipment and procedures used during executions, including an “exhaustive and detailed” list of the qualifications and training of the state’s execution team.

Burge has ordered the hearings in the case of Ruben Rivera, charged in the 2004 shooting death of Manuel Garcia. Rivera asked Burge to drop the death penalty aspects of his case on the grounds that the state’s lethal injection process amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

Since then, two other Lorain County defendants facing death penalty charges have made similar requests of other judges.

Wednesday’s decision clears the way for Burge to consider Rivera’s request. More significantly, it means the broader issue of the constitutionality of injection could end up before the state Supreme Court, since Burge’s conclusion will likely be appealed regardless of how he rules.

“Once my decision gets back up through there then we’ll have an answer on whether lethal injection is going to be a method of execution in Ohio,” said Burge, who called the court’s ruling gratifying.

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