Friday, 11 April 2008

Kentucky Lethal Injection Procedure Released

Kentucky Lethal Injection Procedure Released

The redacted procedure, in Adobe .pdf format is here. The state's justification for secrecy is here.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports, "Kentucky releases rules for executions."

Kentucky's once secret protocol for executing inmates by lethal injection describes in chilling detail what to do if an execution goes bad, and even spells out measures to revive the condemned if there is a last-minute stay.

If an inmate doesn't "flatline" within 10 minutes after being given a three-drug cocktail, the protocol demands that the same drugs should be given again.

"This process will continue until death has occurred," says the protocol, a portion of which the U.S. Supreme Court ordered released this week.

The order came as the court considers whether Kentucky's method of lethal injection -- similar to that used in 35 other states -- is constitutional.

The Kentucky Corrections Department had refused to release its 29-step protocol, citing security concerns. And the document released this week omits some details, including the time of executions, for example.

State Justice Cabinet spokeswomen Jennifer Brislin said making that public could cause executions to be disrupted.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide by June whether the procedures used by Kentucky and the other states violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The appeal was brought by condemned Kentucky inmates Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr.

The 16 pages of the protocol released Wednesday mandate that the execution team practice 10 times a year, and that each practice include a walk-through of an execution, including placing intravenous lines into a human volunteer.

The protocol also says that:

If the team cannot secure one or more IV lines into the condemned inmate in one hour, the corrections commission shall notify the governor and request that the execution be rescheduled.

If the condemned isn't unconscious within 60 seconds after delivery of the first drug, sodium thiopental, the warden should order that a new flow be started in a backup IV.

"State's protocols on execution are ordered released," is the headline in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

A step-by-step look at how Kentucky lethally injects Death Row inmates is now public after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the partial release of the state's execution protocols.

The order was made Wednesday in a case brought by Death Row inmates Ralph Baze and Thomas C. Bowling, challenging the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection procedures.

For years, the state Department of Corrections had fought to keep the protocols a secret, citing security risks. The protocols are similar to those used in 35 other states.

The 16-page protocols, with some information redacted, contain several details that had not been revealed during Bowling's and Baze's lengthy appeals and their oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in January. Death penalty opponents said the protocols are vague and provide little guidance in the event something goes wrong.

"It starkly presents the question, 'Is this the right way to deal with human beings, even those we've decided need to be executed?'" said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington non-profit organization that monitors capital punishment issues.

A Department of Corrections spokeswoman declined to comment on the protocols.


The standard lethal injection protocol was concocted in 1977 in Oklahoma. Only one Kentucky inmate, Eddie Lee Harper in 1999, has been executed under the procedure.

Kentucky's protocols are substantially similar to the other states with lethal injection. That's what makes the Baze case nationally significant, Dieter said.

Substantial portions of the protocol still have not been released, Barron said. Much of the redacted material in what has been released concerns the time of the execution and the specific people who carry out the execution.

The protocols outline how the inmate is to be monitored leading up to the execution, the schedule of who the prisoner can see, and who is allowed to watch the execution.

Once the inmate is restrained, the curtain is opened for observers, and a deputy warden announces they will proceed with the execution.

A team member monitors the electronic heart readings as the drugs are administered. When the heart stops, the curtains close and a doctor and coroner check to see whether the inmate is dead.

The curtain opens and the warden says what time the inmate was pronounced dead.

Then the curtains are closed.

The Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch carries an AP filing, "High court releases part of Ky. lethal injection protocol."

The protocol was released publicly after an order from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering whether the method is constitutional. Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol is similar to that used in 35 other states.

Part of the protocol dealing with inmates had been kept secret until Wednesday. Justices heard arguments in January about whether the protocol passes constitutional muster and are expected to rule by June.

Kentucky death row inmates Ralph Stevens Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. challenged the protocol in 2004. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the method, prompting the two inmates to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The inmates claim that lethal injection as practiced by the state amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The lethal injection index is here. Coverage of the Baze v. Rees oral argument is here and here.

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