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Friday, March 02, 2007

Federal Appeals Court: Ohio's Lethal Injections OK For Now

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- An Ohio death row inmate's claim that lethal injection is a "cruel and unusual punishment" banned by the Constitution was rejected today by a federal appeals court in Cincinnati. A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that convicted murderer Richard Wade Cooey II waited too long to file his legal challenge and found the statute of limitations had expired.

The decision by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals avoided addressing the core issue of Cooey's claim -- the drugs administered when Ohio prisoners are put to death cause intense pain. As part of the procedure, inmates are paralyzed and cannot scream or reveal possible suffering. Ohio uses a combination of three drugs to execute convicts: Sodium thiopental, pancurionium bromide and potassium chloride. The sodium thiopental anesthetizes the prisoner; the pancurionium paralyzes but does not interrupt the ability to feel pain, and the potassium chloride causes cardiac arrest.

Besides attacking the protocol used to cause death, Cooey and another inmate, Adremy Dennis, contended that state prison personnel attending executions and inadequately trained. The appeals court majority said the two-year statute of limitations had expired on Cooey barred him from further challenges. Dennis has already been executed.

Circuit Judge Ronald Lee Gilman dissented from the majority and said he would have considered the appeal. He said Cooey was not challenging his death sentence, but the method of execution. "Ensuring that executions comply with the Constitution of the United States is a paramount duty for the courts, despite the human and financial costs of protracted postconviction litigation," Gilman said.

Ohio made changes to its lethal injection process last year after Joseph Clark's execution was halted on May 2, 2006. His vein collapsed and the drugs could not be administered. Clark was able to speak and told officials the process was not working as he was strapped to a gurney in the death chamber. They stopped, found a new site in his vein, and finished putting him to death.

Today's ruling is HERE. Cooey originally was scheduled for execution on July 24, 2004. It was stayed by the 6th Circuit pending the appeal.

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