Sunday 23 January 2011

Tennessee seeks authorization to resume executions

Lawyers for the state of Tennessee on Friday asked a Nashville judge for authorization to resume executions, arguing that prison officials have a new death penalty procedure in place.
The new method requires that a prison warden check to see if the prisoner is unconscious before the inmate gets a lethal dose of drugs.
In November, the Tennessee Supreme Court halted the executions of four prisoners so the judge in the lower court could determine whether the new method is constitutional.
The order came after Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled that Tennessee's use of a three-drug cocktail to execute prisoners "allows for death by suffocation while conscious."
A lawyer for the state argued Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court had already upheld a similar execution procedure in April 2008. Tennessee is one of several states to use the three drugs in lethal injections.
Mark Hudson, senior counsel at the Tennessee Attorney General's office, also argued that the ban on cruel and unusual punishment has its limits.
"It does not have to eliminate all risks of pain," Hudson said.
Lawyers for death row inmate Stephen Michael West told the judge that the new procedure was still problematic.
"These changes don't cure the defect," said Stephen Kissinger, West's attorney.
Under the new protocol, prison officials will administer a fast-acting barbiturate that acts as an anesthetic. The warden will then check for consciousness by brushing his hand over the inmate's eyes, shaking the prisoner gently and calling out his name.
If the inmate is found to be unconscious, the warden will order the two additional drugs.
West's lawyers have argued that the method causes pain and suffering, but because one of the drugs acts as a paralytic, the prisoner cannot cry out.
West was convicted of the 1986 stabbing deaths of Wanda Romines and her 15-year-old daughter, Sheila Romines.
Bonnyman said she would rule from the bench on Feb. 16.

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