US Supreme Court delays executions while it decides on lethal injections

Death row inmates in Oklahoma have brought case before the high court

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The US Supreme Court on Wednesday shelved three executions in the state of Oklahoma while it decides whether or not execution by lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The delay comes just in time for Richard Glossip, who was scheduled to be killed on Thursday for his conviction in a murder-for-hire plot involving a former boss. Glossip is one of three death row inmates who brought the case questioning a drug used in lethal injections in Oklahoma.

The other two inmates who are temporarily being spared are John Grant, who was set to be executed on 19 February for his conviction of stabbing a correctional officer to death, and Benjamin Cole, who was to be killed on 5 March for the murder of his 9-month-old daughter.

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 has been in the spotlight of the lethal injection debate after 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.

Still, 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. 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 is slated to take up the Oklahoma case at some point this summer.


Follow Payton Guion on Twitter @PaytonGuion.