Judge says Alabama to halt executions until U.S. high court drug ruling: newspaper

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2015 12:15 AM

(Reuters) - An order issued by a federal judge in Alabama said the state has agreed to halt scheduled executions until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a case challenging another state's lethal injection protocol, the Birmingham News reported on Thursday.

The Supreme Court agreed earlier this year to review the controversial method of execution used in Oklahoma, after three death row inmates there accused the state of violating the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment

The three-drug process used by Oklahoma prison officials has been under scrutiny since the April 2014 botched execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. He could be seen twisting on the gurney after death chamber staff failed to place the IV properly.

U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins in Alabama said in his order that the Alabama Attorney General's Office has "conceded that the best course of action is to stay decisions on the lethal injection cases across the board," until the case is decided, according to the Birmingham News.

Watkins is presiding over lawsuits filed by seven death row inmates, though as of Thursday he had only issued stays in five of those cases, the newspaper said.

Reuters could not independently verify the report. Representatives for the state's Attorney General's Office could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Oklahoma inmates challenging that state's procedures argue the sedative used in the executions, midazolam hydrochloride, cannot achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, making it unsuitable for executions.

The Supreme Court case directly affects only Oklahoma, but Florida uses a similar protocol so death row inmates and that state's high court last month put executions on hold ahead of the ruling.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Michael Perry)