Oklahoma asks US Supreme Court to delay executions

Will the US Supreme Court hold off on executions while they make lethal injection decision?

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The US Supreme Court could delay executions in one state as it prepares to decide if lethal injections constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The US Supreme Court last week revealed that it would take up a case that asks the questions whether or not lethal injections are in violation of the Constitution.

The case was brought on by three death-row inmates in Oklahoma who are all scheduled to be executed before the high court has a chance to make a decision on the injections. Now the state has asked the Supreme Court to place a hold on executions until the case can be heard, NBC News reported.

Convicted murderers Garcia White, Richard Glossip and Robert Ladd are slated to be killed in Oklahoma either Wednesday or Thursday. Since the executions have been scheduled, the state is leaving it up to the high court to delay them.

Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole are the three inmates who brought the case. Grant is scheduled to be killed on 19 February and Cole's execution is expected to be held 5 March.

The inmates have made their case around Oklahoma’s use of the drug midazolam, which is the first of three drugs given during a lethal injection and acts as a sedative. Opponents of midazolam use say it’s not powerful enough to prevent pain brought on by the second and third drugs in the cocktail.

Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, said he thinks the court should postpone the executions, since the status of the drugs is in question.

“It is important that we act in order to best serve the interests of the victims of these horrific crimes and the state's obligation to ensure justice in each and every case,” Mr Pruitt said in a statement.

“The families of the victims in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for the sentences of these heinous crimes to be carried out. Two federal courts have previously held the current protocol as constitutional, and we believe the United States Supreme Court will find the same.”

Oklahoma has been in the spotlight of the lethal injection debate since the state botched an execution in April 2014. Clayton Lockett was alive for 43 minutes after his injection was administered, often writing in pain. An investigation found the problem was in the placement of the IV, not in the drugs used.

This case puts the Supreme Court is in a position to rule on the constitutionality of lethal injections. 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 one state to consider the use of a firing squad as an alternative form of execution.

The Supreme Court likely will take up the Oklahoma case at some point this summer.


Follow Payton Guion on Twitter @PaytonGuion.