Full appeals court asked to consider lethal injection case

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was asked Monday to consider whether Missouri's lethal injection method is constitutional.

The request by attorneys for condemned prisoner Michael Taylor comes four weeks after a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled the execution procedure is not cruel and unusual punishment.

The full appeals court has 21 days to decide whether to hear the case. If the court grants a hearing, the panel's earlier decision would be vacated.

Attorney General Jay Nixon's office declined comment on Monday.

Taylor's case prompted a federal judge last year to place a moratorium on Missouri executions. U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. said he wanted to be sure that the three-drug injection method did not cause risk of pain and suffering.

Gaitan wanted the state to involve a doctor specializing in anesthesia, but the state has been unable to find such a doctor willing to participate in the executions.

The three-judge panel on June 4 reversed Gaitan's ruling, saying the state's execution protocol "is designed to ensure a quick, indeed a painless, death," eliminating the need "for the continuing careful, watchful eye of an anesthesiologist or one trained in anesthesiology."

But Taylor's petition filed Monday argues the panel focused too narrowly on the protocol rather than how it is implemented, and any accidents or mistakes by staff that may result.

"The humaneness of executions depends as much on the Department of Corrections' implementation of the protocol as on the protocol itself," Taylor's attorneys argued in Monday's petition.

The three-court panel's decision allows the state to execute inmates using an "inadequate protocol" and "wide discretion" to staff despite the corrections department's inability to recruit doctors and other competent personnel, the petition said. Taylor has no way of knowing what qualifications and training his executioners have, it said.

The debate centers on how three drugs are administered in succession. If the initial anesthetic does not take hold, a third drug that stops a condemned prisoner's heart can cause excruciating pain, it has been argued. But the inmate would not be able to communicate the pain because of a second drug that paralyzes him.

Missouri is among at least nine states that have put executions on hold as they grapple with whether lethal injection is inhumane.

Gov. Matt Blunt privately signed a bill on Saturday making secret the identities of people who carry out executions in Missouri. The signing was made public Monday.

Taylor, convicted of killing 15-year-old Ann Harrison in Kansas City in 1989 after kidnapping her from a school bus stop, was hours away from being executed in February 2006 when the procedure was halted.

The debate over executions increased last year after it was learned that Missouri's doctor responsible for overseeing administration of the lethal chemicals, identified as surgeon Alan Doerhoff of Jefferson City, was dyslexic.

Doerhoff testified last year that he had overseen Missouri's executions for years, and on occasion had altered the amount of anesthetic given to inmates.


On the Net:

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/index.html

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