The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday halted the execution of a man convicted of killing four people while it waits on a ruling from the US Supreme Court on the legality of lethal injections, becoming the latest state to delay executions.
Jerry William Correll was convicted in 1986 of killing his daughter, his ex-wife, and his ex-wife’s mother and sister, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Correll was set to be killed on 26 February.
Correll’s attorneys filed an emergency petition to the state Supreme Court asking for a delay on the execution while the US high court decides whether lethal injections constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
The federal case centres on an issue brought by three inmates in Oklahoma who argue that the first drug in the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections violates inmate’s Eighth Amendment rights.
That drug, midazolam, is administered as a sedative, but opponents of the drug say it’s not powerful enough to prevent pain brought on by the two other drugs that are given.
“Because the lethal injection protocol under review in the Supreme Court is virtually identical to the Florida three-drug lethal injection protocol, a stay of execution in this case is appropriate,” wrote Chief Justice Jorge Labarga in the majority opinion. “... Without the stay of execution in this case, Florida risks the unconstitutional execution of Correll, for which there is no remedy.”
Executions in the US have come under fire since Oklahoma botched the execution of Clayton Lockett last year. Lockett was alive for 43 minutes after his lethal injection was administered, often writing in pain. An investigation found the problem was in the placement of the IV, not in the drugs used.
Still, the status of the death penalty in the US is in question. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court opted to delay the executions of the three Oklahoma inmates who brought the case questioning the lethal injection and, last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf placed a moratorium on executions in the state pending the results of a study on the issue.
The lethal injection case puts the Supreme Court is in a position to rule on the constitutionality of such executions. On two previous occasions it has ruled in favour of the injections. Still, the possibility of a ruling that would ban lethal injections has prompted Wyoming to consider the use of a firing squad as an alternative form of execution.
The Supreme Court likely will take up the lethal injection case at some point this summer.
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