Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tennessee Halts Four Executions: Cites Lethal Injection Concern

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for Stephen Michael West to allow a trial court to test the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection procedure. West's execution was to be carried out yesterday. The executions of three other death row inmates were also stayed pending the outcome of West's proceeding.

According to United Press International, West filed a motion on November 24th requesting postponement after a County Court ruled the state's lethal injection procedure was unconstitutional.

The trial court ruled the state's current procedure did not offer a safeguard to ensure a prisoner was unconscious before the final two drugs are administered, reported UPI.

The state responded by saying it had changed its execution procedure to include a test to confirm that the inmate is unconscious before the final two drugs were injected. In fact, last week the court approved checking for consciousness by having a warden shake the inmate and brush a hand across the inmate's eyelashes.

The Supreme Court directed the trial court to allow the parties to submit argument or evidence on the revised protocol, and said the trial court must render its final judgment within 90 days, according to UPI.

The last-minute decision surprised even West’s attorney, Stephen Ferrell. “Reconsideration is something that traditionally doesn’t happen all that often,” Ferrell told the Tennessean. “But I’m glad to see they saw the lack of our opportunity to have any input. I’m pleased they were able to admit they may have made the first decision too hastily.”

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