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March 24, 2011

Divided Kentucky Supreme Court upholds stay on executions in state

As detailed in this AP article, a "ban on executions in Kentucky may stay in place while a judge decides if the state's lethal injection protocol is adequate, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday." Here are more of the details:

The court, by a 5-2 vote, left in place a lower court's order temporarily barring executions while condemned inmate Gregory L. Wilson, 54, and other death row inmates challenge the state's execution protocol.  The decision means that Kentucky won't be able to carry out an execution, despite having recently purchased enough of a key drug to carry out three lethal injections.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued the order in September as the state prepared to execute Wilson for the 1987 kidnapping, rape and murder of 36-year-old Debbie Pooley in northern Kentucky.  Shepherd found the state lacked "adequate safeguards" to assess an inmate's mental state once an execution date has been set.

The high court said the best option right now is to let the case play out before Shepherd. "We express no opinion on the merits of the Franklin Circuit Court on these issues," the court wrote in an opinion signed by Chief Justice John D. Minton.  Shepherd told attorneys Monday that he's considering a final opinion in the case....

The high court said because there are no active execution dates, there is no rush to consider Shepherd's decision before his final opinion.  "We certainly recognize that some view any delay in carrying out the death sentences of Wilson and other death row inmates as an injury and an injustice to the Commonwealth, but we also believe that granting the requested writ would not further Commonwealth's officers' efforts to meet obligations to comply with the law in administering the death penalty," the court wrote.

Justices Will T. Scott and Bill Cunningham dissented, but didn't issue an opinion.

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jack Conway said they were disappointed. Public defender David Barron, who represents Baze, said the decision shows Kentucky prematurely set execution dates while there were valid questions about the state's protocol....

The decision marks at least the third time questions about Kentucky's execution protocol have stopped executions.  The state's high court halted executions in 2004 in a case that the U.S. Supreme Court used to uphold the constitutionality of the three-drug lethal injection process.  In November 2009, the state justices ordered Kentucky to readopt the lethal injection protocol because it wasn't properly put into place.

The opinion and order in this case, which mostly deals with procedural issues, is available via this link.

March 24, 2011 at 05:01 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"The Panic in Needle Park".

Posted by: George | Mar 24, 2011 6:13:09 PM

As in a previous post on this case last September, I don't think several justices on the Kentucky Supreme Court want the death penalty to be carried out. Expect another couple of years of litigation on this one.

Posted by: DaveP | Mar 24, 2011 6:54:08 PM

@DaveP
You are probably right. I find it really convenient that the appeals judge only found the state statutes dealing with mental illness lacking in the last days of a man who had spent decades on death row. And in the case of a man who had never claimed to be mentally ill or retarded in the past.
Should this ever be resolved I expect he'll find another issue to stay all executions, probably the fact that the state is still using Sodium Thiepental at a time when others will have abandoned it.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Mar 24, 2011 8:03:20 PM

Since when does a lethal injection protocol have anything to do with mental retardation or insanity? That is an issue that is raised in a seperate action.
I don't understand that. It has been 3 years now since Baze and Kentucky has no executions in sight. Convenient is right, MikeinCt.

Posted by: DaveP | Mar 25, 2011 6:36:52 AM

Dave,

If I'm reading the post right it is the setting of an execution date that they are trying (and so far succeeding) at hanging their hat on. After all, it focuses a man's mind wonderfully to know that he will be hanged in the morning.

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Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 6:16:12 AM

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