Death row prisoners claim injections cause excruciating pain

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The Independent US

Two death row prisoners in the United States are legally challenging their planned executions - claiming that lethal injections can cause a condemned prisoner to die in excruciating pain.

Two death row prisoners in the United States are legally challenging their planned executions - claiming that lethal injections can cause a condemned prisoner to die in excruciating pain.

The prisoners say this is a breach of their constitutional rights. In papers placed before a court in Kentucky, lawyers for Ralph Baze and Clyde Bowling, both killers, said the anaesthetic administered with the chemicals that make up a lethal injection "cocktail" can often leave a person conscious. That level of pain is a breach of the 8th Amendment, the lawyers argued, which forbids punishments that are "cruel or unusual". The state's lawyers said that if injections were halted it would amount to a suspension of the death penalty.

The Lancet reported last week that post-mortem tests on 49 executed prisoners found that 43 of them had anaesthesia levels below that required for surgery. It said researchers could not prove all inmates executed by injection were unconscious during the execution; if they were conscious, it said, "any suffering ... would be undetectable because of the paralysis from the second drug".

The Death Penalty Information Centre says 37 of the 38 US states that have the death penalty use lethal injection, which was introduced in 1978. Nebraska electrocutes its prisoners. Since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, 790 of the 958 executions in the US have been by injection, which uses sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic, followed by pancuronium bromide, a muscle blocker that halts breathing, and finally by potassium chloride.

Lawyers for Baze, who shot dead two police officers, and Bowling, who killed two robbery victims, plan to present 20 expert witnesses and will claim that Eddie Lee Harper, who was executed in 1999 in Kentucky, was conscious when chemicals stopped his heart. One of the lawyers, David Barron, said a post-mortem test showed Harper had absorbed little of the anaesthetic before the fatal potassium chloride was administered. It was likely, he said, that Harper experienced the "torture" of suffocating to death or having his veins seared by the heart toxin.

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