Tuesday, April 21, 2015
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two Mississippi prisoners condemned to death are challenging the legality of the state's lethal injection procedures.
A lawyer for Richard Jordan and Ricky Chase writes in a suit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Jackson that Mississippi prisoners face risks of excruciating pain and torture during an execution that violates the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
A prison spokeswoman declined to comment.
Mississippi plans to execute prisoners by mixing pentobarbital from ingredients it purchased from a compounding pharmacy in Grenada. Lawyer Jim Craig said Mississippi doesn't seem to have ever used the drug in an execution before and questioned whether the state can mix a safe and effective anesthetic for prisoners.
Even if it can, Craig warns that the drug may act more slowly than drugs used previously, meaning that prisoners could be conscious as a paralyzing agent is injected, causing them to know they're unable to breathe. They might remain conscious as potassium chloride is injected to stop their hearts.
"The defendants' untried and untested drugs create a substantial risk that plaintiffs will suffer unnecessary and excruciating pain, either by injection of the compounded pentobarbital causing a painful reaction itself, or by the compounded pentobarbital failing to work, resulting in a torturous death by life suffocation and cardiac arrest," the suit states.
The prisoners also allege using pentobarbital is illegal under state law, because it doesn't meet the legal mandate for an ultra-fast-acting barbiturate. Mississippi formerly used a different drug, but the supplier cut off use in executions.
Craig has fought the state Corrections Department in court seeking information about Mississippi's suppliers of execution drugs. The new lawsuit argues that the secrecy is a separate constitutional violation, because it retards prisoners' ability to mount Eighth Amendment challenges.
"Under the due process clauses of the United States and Mississippi constitutions, plaintiffs are entitled to notice of the defendants' intended method of execution," the suit states.
Craig argues that under evolving standards of decency, U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate should bar Mississippi from using the paralytic agent and potassium chloride, though they are required by state law. He said executing people using only barbiturates, as Texas now does, could meet these standards.
Jordan was convicted of capital murder committed in the course of kidnapping Edwina Marta in Harrison County in 1976. At 68, Jordan is the oldest inmate on Mississippi's death row, having won three successful appeals only to be resentenced to death. He's also the longest serving, having spent 38 years in death row. What would likely be Jordan's final appeal is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hood's office could ask the state Supreme Court to set an execution date within weeks if Jordan's appeal is refused. That's important, because Mississippi's current supply of pentobarbital is supposed to expire May 20.
Chase was convicted and sentenced to death in 1990 for the 1989 killing of an elderly vegetable salesman in Copiah County.