Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lawsuit: New Lethal Injection Method 'Like Being Burned Alive on the Inside'

Posted By on Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 2:02 PM

click to enlarge Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville is home to Tennessee's death row. - GOOGLE MAPS
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  • Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville is home to Tennessee's death row.

Attorneys for 33 Tennessee death row inmates said inmates killed using the state’s new lethal injection drugs will “needlessly experience terror, pain, and suffocation during execution” and they hope a court will deem it unconstitutional.

Last month, state officials adopted a new protocol for executions by lethal injection. A new cocktail of three drugs would replace a lethal dose of one drug.

Tennessee has used the single drug, pentobarbital, since 2015. But the drug became hard to get as some drug makers refused sell it to anyone hoping to use it for executions.

Using its back stock of pentobarbital, the Tennessee Attorney General asked the Tennessee Supreme Court last week to schedule executions for nine death row inmates before June 1. Though, some executions are already on the books.

James Hawkins, of Shelby County, is already scheduled to be executed on May 9, the first execution in the state since 2009. Sedrick Clayton, of Shelby County, is scheduled to be executed on November 28. Billy Ray Irick, of Knox County, is slated for execution on August 9.

The new drug cocktail is made from midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. Attorneys for the death row inmates said the cocktail has “never been used in Tennessee.” The injection will leave the inmates “aware and sensate during execution,” the attorneys said in a complaint filed Tuesday with the Davidson County Chancery Court. 
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“This case is not about the constitutionality of the death penalty or the justness of the individual plaintiffs’ convictions and death sentences,” reads the complaint. “This case is solely about the unconditionality and illegality of the January 8, 2018 lethal injection protocol.

The attorneys said TDOC has been spent $60,000 stockpiling the drugs for the new protocol, which “constitutes a substantial change from the previous protocol.”

“What Tennessee is proposing to do amounts to torturing prisoners to death, which we know because we’ve seen this protocol fail in other states,” said Supervisory Assistant Federal Public Defender Kelley J. Henry, who represents the death row prisoners in this litigation. “You cannot break the law in order to enforce the law, which is what this new lethal injection protocol does.

“This new protocol is absolutely unconstitutional in many regards, breaking multiple laws governing the use of controlled substances. These drugs are tightly controlled and are not designed to kill, nor are they approved for that use. To use this torturous protocol requires pharmacists, doctors, and prison officials to act illegally.”

Midlozam, “cannot relieve pain at any dose,” reads the complaint, and cannot “sufficiently inhibit the pain and suffering caused by” the other two drugs, which cause “excruciating pain and suffocation.”
Vecuronium bromide produces paralysis and “needlessly increases the risk that an execution will continue” because an inmate cannot indicate they are in pain. Potassium chloride, will cause a “searing, burning, sensation in the veins (and) plaintiffs will feel like being burned alive from the inside."

The state of Tennessee has executed 131 people since 1916. The last was Cecil Johnson, convicted in Davidson County, on Dec. 2, 2009. The last from Shelby County was Phillip Workman in 2007.

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