Bredesen: 1-drug injection is no quick fix, would delay executions
Years of litigation would be result, governor estimates
Gov. Phil Bredesen said proposals to introduce a one-drug lethal injection method to navigate around the hazy legal future of Tennessee's three-drug procedure would delay rather than expedite executions.
Bredesen told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he "would disagree violently" with those who argue that the state could immediately use a single heavy dose of barbiturates for executions.
"Just remember that among the strongest proponents of the one-drug protocol are people who are adamantly opposed to the death penalty," said Bredesen, a Democrat who supports the death penalty and has signed the papers to execute three prisoners during his administration.
Tennessee and other states that use the three-drug protocol have been forced to halt executions while they wait for a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in a Kentucky case on whether the method constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The court heard arguments this month and is expected to issue a ruling by the summer.
"The answer is obvious, that when you change protocols to something new you're going to have 10 years of litigation," the governor said.
"We're not going to execute anybody for 10 years in this country while all this new uncharted territory of what a one-drug protocol is and what problems it may or may not have get adjudicated."
The case before the Supreme Court contains issues similar to a case brought by a Tennessee death row inmate who succeeded in federal court arguing against the three-drug cocktail.
Among issues considered by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger in Nashville before she ruled in the inmate's favor was the one-drug method. She agreed with the inmate that a state commission studying the death penalty did not adequately consider that method.
While some Tennessee lawmakers and death penalty advocates were pushing for the state to go ahead with a one-drug protocol to continue with executions, most are waiting to see what the nation's high court will decide.
"The practical and prudent approach is to wait for that decision," said state Sen. Doug Jackson, co-chairman of a legislative committee studying the state's death penalty.
"Experts have testified that a single-drug protocol would be equally effective and at the same time would be less complicated and have a much lower potential of causing a horrific death," the Dickson Democrat said.
If the Supreme Court finds the three-drug method unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, Tennessee would have its previous method for backup: electrocution.
State Attorney General Robert Cooper has said the electric chair can't be used in the interim, but the state constitution will allow it if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional.
"I think what's taking place can be very beneficial," Jackson said, because 35 states use a similar method of a sedative, then a paralyzing agent, then a shot to stop the heart.
"I believe what will come is a standardized process that hopefully will result in no botched executions," Jackson said.
"Nobody believes that they should be tortured. I'm hopeful that the process will be we can move forward with executions."