The Supreme Court has agreed to assess whether lethal injections violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The controversial case, which was filed by four Oklahoma death-row inmates, was sparked by the April 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett. Witness to the execution reported that Lockett “struggled, groaned and writhed in pain for 43 minutes” after receiving the injection.
Attorneys for the plaintiff blame a sedative, which is administered as the first portion of a three-drug protocol. Although midazolam is commonly used to treat seizures, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug as a general anesthetic. As reported by USA Today, the attorneys argued that midazolam “is being used in state executions virtually on an experimental basis.”
Although he is listed as one of the four plaintiffs, 47-year-old Prio was executed on January 15. According to reports, the execution took nearly 20 minutes to complete. Witnesses said Warner complained that the injection felt “like acid” and made him feel like he was “on fire.”
Lockett and Warner were both executed in Oklahoma, where the Supreme Court lethal injection case originated. However, the plaintiffs’ attorneys also referred to the execution of Dennis McGuire, which occurred in Ohio, and Joseph Wood, which occurred in Arizona.
As reported by Death Penalty Info, executions in Arizona and Ohio are performed using the same three-drug combination used in Oklahoma.
Witnesses to Dennis McGuire’s execution said the inmate remained conscious for 25 minutes after the drugs were administered. The grisly scene was described in a lawsuit filed by McGuire’s family.
As stated in the lawsuit, McGuire suffered through “repeated cycles of snorting, gurgling and arching his back, appearing to writhe in pain… It looked and sounded as though he was suffocating.”
Witnesses to Joseph Wood’s execution described a similar scene. However, Woods remained conscious for one hour and 40 minutes after the drugs were administered.
Journalist Michael Kiefer claims the inmate gasped for breath a total of 640 times before he was pronounced dead. However, the Arizona Attorney General’s office argued that Mr. Wood fell asleep during the execution, and was likely snoring.
Capital punishment will certainly remain a highly controversial issue, and the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to make waves.
As stated by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “these inmates have committed horrific crimes and should be punished. But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death.”
The Supreme Court is now tasked with determining whether executions by lethal injection are a violations of the inmates’ constitutional rights.
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