HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A lawyer for five inmates on Pennsylvania's death row argued before a state court on Wednesday that the Corrections Department did not have legal authority to change state execution procedures from a two-drug to a three-drug protocol.
The hearing in Commonwealth Court concerned whether their lawsuit can proceed past preliminary stages. The Corrections Department wants the court to throw out the case, arguing among other things that the inmates lack legal standing.
Amy Zapp, a lawyer with the state attorney general's office, which is representing the department, said that currently no inmates face execution. Gov. Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on the death penalty last month, and the state Supreme Court plans to hear a challenge to that policy by the Philadelphia district attorney.
Questions from the seven-judge panel focused on the department's decision to revise the drug mixture and other execution rules in 2012 after execution drugs became scarce.
"Whether it's a regulation or a protocol, it can't be contrary to the statute," said Judge Kevin Brobson.
David Rudovsky, a lawyer for the inmates, said they were seeking an order to prevent anyone from being executed without abiding by the procedures laid out in state law, even though they call for the use of drugs that have become impossible to obtain. Rudovsky said extensive legislative hearings preceded the passage of the current law.
"You may not use drugs the Legislature did not authorize, and they did not authorize for good reason," he said.
Pennsylvania has executed only three people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 — most recently in 1999 — and all three had voluntarily given up on their appeals.
Terrance Williams, one of the five inmates, was the condemned man whose reprieve by Wolf prompted the Supreme Court challenge by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.