Supreme Court scrutinizing constitutionality of Oklahoma’s execution method

In October 2007, Oklahoma’s execution schedule ground to a halt. Attorney General Drew Edmondson said a case in Kentucky before the U.S. Supreme Court suggested that Oklahoma’s method of execution risks pain.

“The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment,” Edmondson said. “The issue before the Supreme Court is what standard defines cruel and unusual. In Oklahoma, our standard prohibits the wanton infliction of pain. In the Kentucky case, the defendant is asking the court to set the standard at unnecessary risk of pain.”

That case before the court is called Baze v. Rees. In it, convicted murderer Ralph Baze challenged his pending execution. His attorneys contend that the three-drug method of lethal injection, originated by Oklahoma law, carries considerable risk of a death so torturous that it violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

CRITICAL
The brief before the highest court in the United States is very critical of Oklahoma’s process. It describes the development of Oklahoma’s lethal injection sequence, and its selection of chemicals, as an almost arbitrary choice arrived at by “a state legislator, who was aided in his endeavor by Dr. Stanley Deutsch, an anesthesiologist, and Dr. Jay Chapman, a medical examiner with no anesthesia training.”

Last week, the argument seemed to garner some concern among the Supreme Court justices. Troubling to Justice John Paul Stevens was the notion that the paralyzing agent could immobilize an inmate, but he or she could still feel a terrible burning sensation from the potassium chloride while dying. “Ben Fenwick

Ben Fenwick

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