Thursday, 17 July 2008

Federal judge upholds Missouri execution procedure

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Missouri's lethal-injection procedure is not cruel or unusual punishment, possibly ending a series of lawsuits that kept the state's death chamber closed for nearly three years. The ruling was issued by U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. in Kansas City. Missouri corrections officials said Tuesday they were preparing to end the life of John Middleton on July 30 as originally scheduled. The state Supreme Court had granted the convicted killer a reprieve last week, presumably to give the federal court to sort out challenges by five death-row inmates to Missouri's execution protocol.
"If the stay is vacated, the department will fulfill its statutory duty" to execute Middleton as scheduled, corrections spokesman Dean Watson wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper Tuesday.
Executions were put on hold in several states while inmates challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection.
During a suit by Missouri inmate Michael Taylor, the surgeon who supervised the state's lethal-injection for several years testified that he was dyslexic.
A Post-Dispatch investigation revealed that the surgeon, Alan R. Doerhoff, had been sued for malpractice more than 20 times and publicly reprimanded by the State Board of Healing Arts.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol, effectively allowing states to resume executions.
Missouri's executions remained stalled while death-row inmate Reginald Clemons and four other inmates argued that Missouri's history of using unqualified personnel in the death chamber could subject the condemned to unconstitutional pain.
After Taylor's suit, Missouri prison officials have said they were no longer using Doerhoff and had hired an anesthesiologist and a registered nurse to work on its execution team.
In filings, the state provided information to the plaintiffs on their licensing, credentials and training, but resisted attempts by Clemons' lawyers to depose the new execution team members.
With their days dwindling, Middleton and two other inmates tried to join the Clemons suit. But on Tuesday, Judge Gaitan ruled that he would not allow any new plaintiffs — or any further depositions — saying he decided "the members of the execution team are fully qualified to carry out the steps of the execution protocol."
He also wrote: "The law does not allow plaintiffs input into who will be performing the executions, as long as they have the requisite experience and are licensed in their field."
Lawyers in the Clemons suit could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
One of Middleton's attorneys, John William Simon, predicted that federal appeals judges would reverse Gaitan's order, as they did last year in a key ruling in Taylor's lawsuit.
"Every time he's made a decision on the merits on lethal injection, he's been reversed," he said.

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