Kentucky’s execution method questioned

September 26, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Two of the three inmates executed in Kentucky since 1976 didn’t contest their fates and went willingly to their deaths. One attorney worries that, under the state’s new proposed lethal injection rules, the inmate’s attorney won’t be notified in time to stop the process if a future volunteer has a change of heart.

Tom Griffiths, a Lexington attorney, was one of 11 people to address a public hearing Tuesday in Frankfort about Kentucky’s proposed execution method. A death row inmate could change his mind in the days or hours leading to an execution but still be put to death if not given the chance to speak to an attorney, Griffiths said.

“It doesn’t allow for any input at all,” Griffiths said.

The hearing was part of the legal process that could allow the state to resume executing inmates by the spring. The Kentucky Justice Cabinet must submit the proposed regulations to the Legislative Research Council by Oct. 15. The regulations then go to legislative committees for consideration. If there are no delays, state officials expect to appear before Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd in February or March to ask him to lift an order barring inmates from being put to death. That order cited problems the judge found with the state’s three-drug lethal injection method.

Kentucky is trying to switch to a method similar to the one used by other states, with either a single dose of the anesthetic sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate. The state may use two drugs — the anti-seizure medication midazolam, better known as Versed, and hydromorphone, an analgesic known commonly as Dilaudid — if the chemicals used in a single-drug execution are not available seven days in advance.

The state estimates the cost of a single execution under the new process at $81,438. Under the three-drug method, the estimated cost to all the agencies involved was $63,516. The increase appears attributable to rising costs for the services provided by multiple agencies.

Death penalty opponents offered multiple critiques of the proposed method, ranging from access to attorneys to the two-minute time limit a condemned inmate is given to make a final statement. In the last days of a condemned inmate’s life, prison officials restrict access to the inmate, and only prison officials and prosecutors automatically receive legal updates at the prison on the day of an execution.

Public defender Tim Arnold said attorneys need access to phones as well as their clients as the execution nears to discuss legal options, particularly if the inmate opts to stop all appeals.

“We need to have some communication to the clients,” Arnold said.

Mikhail Victor Troutman, a volunteer for the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, described the two-minute time limit as unconscionably short.

“The average bowel movement lasts longer from beginning to end,” Troutman said.

Because the proposed method doesn’t call for the state to wait for a final ruling on a stay of execution, a defense attorney must have a way to notify his client of a court ruling once the process begins, public defender David Barron said.

“What if something occurs during the execution?” Barron said.

While critics dominated the comments, victim advocates and relatives called on executions to begin sooner rather than later.

“We, sir, didn’t get two minutes to say our goodbye,” said Katherine Nichols of Shelbyville, head of Kentuckians’ Voice for Crime Victims, whose brother James Carl Duckett Jr. was slain in a case that remains unsolved.

Beverly Walters of Shepherdsville, who carries a photo of her daughter Patricia Vance, who was killed by death row inmate Randy Haight, wants executions to start quickly.

“I’ll be glad to push his drugs,” Walters told The Associated Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s