LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky is dropping its proposed use of a two-drug execution method after the prolonged deaths of inmates in two other states that used a similar means to carry out death sentences.
In a filing Thursday in Franklin Circuit Court, prosecutors cited "recent events in other states" as the reason for seeking to rewrite the regulations over the next six months. The move came just less than two months after Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the state to be prepared to explain how and why it chose the two-drug method and the doses proposed.
Kentucky, which modeled its execution process on Ohio's, proposed using compounded drugs and of using midazolam and hydromorphone.
Two states have used midazolam in a two-drug protocol: Ohio and Arizona. Both of their executions in 2014 were prolonged, accompanied by the inmates' gasping.
Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said the experience of Ohio and Arizona left questions about the effectiveness of the drug combination.
"The Commonwealth of Kentucky will not take any risks with its protocols for lethal injection; therefore, we are going to eliminate this methodology from our regulations," Brislin said.
Lethal injections have undergone scrutiny in recent years as the drugs used to carry out the process have become tougher for states to get as pharmaceutical companies barred their use for executions. It wasn't immediately clear Friday morning if Kentucky is the first state to drop the two-drug concept without having used it first.
"It's oftentimes not always clear what states are doing," said Deborah Denno, a Fordham University law school professor who studies the death penalty.
Richard Dieter, head of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said other states including Oklahoma and Louisiana have two-drug methods on the books, but haven't used them and, given what happened in Ohio and Arizona, are unlikely to in the future.
"I also think Ohio and Arizona will abandon it, having used it with bad results," Dieter said.
Executions in Kentucky have been on hold since 2010 when Judge Shepherd took issue with how executions were handled.
Executions in Ohio have been on hold since January, when inmate Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during a 26-minute execution that raised questions about the two-drug method used to put him to death that had never been tried. Problems with this combo were further underscored in July when it took nearly two hours and 15 doses of injection drugs before Joseph Wood died in Arizona.
The issue is the latest in the decade-long battle over how Kentucky executes people and whether the current system passes constitutional muster and was properly adopted. But, it is also a complicated issue because, by law, doctors in Kentucky are not allowed to take part in executions or any part of the execution process. That left the decisions about how executions work up to lawyers reviewing what other states did in their lethal injection methods.
The delays are angering some families of victims, who see other states carrying out executions but watch as Kentucky remains stalled in its efforts.
"Find a way to write the law so it is supported by the judicial system," said Keri Preter, whose aunt, 36-year-old Deborah "Debbie" Pooley, was raped and killed in 1987 in northern Kentucky. "Close the loopholes. Save taxpayer money and resources. There is no reason that an execution cannot be carried out in a humane way."
Several death row inmates sued the state over how executions were carried out in the months before the state prepared to execute 58-year-old Gregory L. Wilson for Pooley's killing. As part of that lawsuit, Shepherd expressed concerns about how the state would determine if an inmate is mentally disabled and whether the use of a three-drug mixture caused an unconstitutional amount of pain and suffering before stopping Wilson's execution in 2010.
Wilson, along with inmates Ralph Baze, Thomas C. Bowling, Robert Foley, Brain Keith Moore and Parramore Sanborn, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Kentucky has executed three inmates since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, with the last execution in 2008.
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