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Judge roasts Alabama officials over lethal injection procedure


MONTGOMERY, Ala. –

A federal judge on Thursday questioned Alabama state officials about the state’s lethal injection procedures – including an excessive number of “poke” needles – following problems with access to veins at the hospital. the state’s last two scheduled executions.

U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr raised the questions during a hearing in a lawsuit filed by Kenneth Eugene Smith, who is seeking to block his impending execution on November 17. His attorney pointed to problems with recent lethal injections. Alabama stopped injecting the lethal drug last month after having difficulty accessing the veins of a 351-pound (159-kilogram) inmate and advocacy groups alleged the July execution was carried out. After a long delay, was defeated.

Huffaker asked an attorney for the state at what point the vascular search was affected by the constitutional ban on brutal and unusual punishment.

“It’s 10 pokes? It’s 11? It’s 100? It’s an hour? … What is it?” Huffaker asked. He also asked when the state made the decision to cancel a lethal injection when there was a problem with connecting the veins.

Robert Anderson, of the Alabama attorney general’s office, said the prison commissioner and state warden are responsible for deciding when to suspend executions.

Huffaker also asked the state prison commissioner to clarify when the state would be ready to use nitrous oxide reduction, an execution method that the state has authorized but has never used. Huffaker said the state told him different things at different times, including once hinting it might be ready for implementation last month – a suggestion that turned out to be untrue. real.

“It’s in development but we don’t have a process at this time,” Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm told the judge.

Anderson added that Alabama is trying to develop the country’s first processes to do so using the nitrogen hypoxia method, so this is a complex endeavor and difficult to estimate accurately.

Smith, 57, will be executed by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility on November 17 after being convicted in the 1988 murder of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, a 45-year-old grandmother and wife. of the pastor.

Smith’s attorney, Robert Grass, said Alabama’s lethal injection procedure created an intolerable “risk of cruel and unusual punishment.” He also said the state has kept much of this process secret, including the identities and qualifications of those who connect the IV lines to prisoners. Grass is seeking to obtain records from recent executions and interview members of the execution team.

Alabama is asking the judge to dismiss Smith’s case, arguing that courts have long upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Last month, Alabama canceled the lethal injection of Alan Miller after losing access to his veins. The state faces a midnight deadline to carry out the execution. Miller said in a court filing that prison staff had poked him with needles for more than an hour as they tried to find a vein. Miller’s attorneys are fighting the state’s attempt to find a new execution date for him.

The execution of Joe Nathan James Jr in July came three hours after the US Supreme Court said the state could proceed. Bang acknowledged that setting up the intravenous line took longer than expected. However, the Reprieve US Foreician Justice Initiative, a human rights group that opposes the death penalty, upheld executions that failed.

Private autopsy witnesses say James’ body showed evidence that officials attempted to perform “skin ablation,” a procedure in which the skin is opened to allow a visual search. . They also speculated that he may have been sedated. The state says that “cutting down” is not part of their protocol and that James must not be sedated.

Hamm, under oath during Thursday’s hearing, told the judge during Smith’s execution that the state would not use a “cut-off” procedure and would not give any sedatives.

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