NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee judge has upheld the state’s lethal injection process for executing inmates. Davidson County Chancery Judge Claudia Bonnyman said from the bench that the plaintiffs, 33 death row inmates, didn’t prove that the one-drug method led to a painful and lingering death. She also said the plaintiffs didn’t show during a lengthy trial that there have been problems in states where the method has been used.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Kelley Henry said they plan to appeal. Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a statement he hoped the families of victims would be comforted by the ruling.
Tennessee’s protocol calls for the use of pentobarbital mixed to order by a pharmacist, because the only commercial producer of the drug has placed restrictions on its distribution to prevent it from being used in executions. Tennessee has not executed an inmate for more than five years because of legal challenges and problems in obtaining lethal injection drugs.
Lawmakers moved from a three-drug lethal injection method to a one-drug method and to reinstate the electric chair as a backup. Both changes brought challenges, and all previously scheduled executions have been put on hold.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge said that he blocked executions in Mississippi because the sedatives the state plans to use don’t align with what’s required by Mississippi law. U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate, in an order issued Wednesday, wrote that without pre-judging the case, Mississippi doesn’t plan to use a drug meeting the legal requirement to render a person unconscious almost immediately.
“The court finds that plaintiffs have shown a substantial likelihood in prevailing, at least, on their claim that Mississippi’s failure to use a drug that qualifies as an ‘ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug’ as required by (state law) violated Mississippi statutory law and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
Wingate issued the order verbally to lawyers Tuesday. He wrote that a more extensive ruling would follow, and told the state to seek his approval before trying to use any other drug. Attorney General Jim Hood immediately filed notice that the state would appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, backed by Gov. Phil Bryant. “The state of Mississippi will exercise its full legal rights to ensure that crime victims and their families receive the justice they deserve and that perpetrators of heinous crimes do not go unpunished,” Bryant said in a statement.
Mississippi law requires a three-drug process, with the sedative followed by a paralyzing agent and a drug that stops an inmate’s heart. Through late 2010, Mississippi and all other states used sodium thiopental as the barbiturate, according to records maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. After a manufacturer stopped selling it for executions, Mississippi used a centrally-manufactured version of pentobarbital, called Nembutal, in eight executions in 2011 and 2012. But Nembutal’s manufacturer also cut off use in executions.
Mississippi then bought pentobarbital mixed to order by a pharmacist. In legal papers, the state said it destroyed that supply and now intends to use another sedative, midazolam, after the U.S. Supreme Court approved the drug’s use in Oklahoma.