Texas, Alabama Executions Stayed As Lethal Injection Controversy Spreads

Two executions scheduled to take place on Thursday, September 27, in Alabama and Texas were stayed just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will consider the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol. In Alabama, Governor Bob Riley granted Thomas Arthur a 45-day stay of execution to allow time for the state to change its current lethal injection protocol. The change is designed to address concerns that inmates are not fully unconscious when given drugs to stop the heart and lungs, a problem that could result in excruciating pain. In Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the scheduled execution of Carlton Turner as he was facing an imminent lethal injection. Though the Supreme Court did not give a reason for issuing a stay in Turner's case, his attorneys have linked their appeal to the Kentucky lethal injection case the Justices will hear next year. In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Turner's lawyers said that if the first of the three drugs failed to render Turner unconscious "the inmate will experience excruciating pain and torture as the second and third drugs are administered."

Earlier in the week, just hours after the Supreme Court announced it would hear the Kentucky lethal injection challenge, Michael Richard was executed in Texas. Lawyers attributed Richard's execution to the short period of time they had to prepare appeals. After the Supreme Court's decision to stay Turner's execution, Morris Moon, a Houston attorney with the non-profit Texas Defender Service, observed, "We're relieved. We're pleased it won't be business as usual in Texas."

The federal government and all but one of the 38 states with the death penalty use lethal injection for executions. Executions in many states had already been halted as courts and other officials consider their lethal injection protocols.
(Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2007; Associated Press, September 28, 2007; Reuters, September 28, 2007). See also Lethal Injection, Upcoming Executions, and U.S. Supreme Court.