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Kentucky judge orders public hearings on lethal injection methods

[JURIST] A Kentucky judge on Wednesday ordered the state to hold public hearings on its lethal injection [DPIC backgrounder] protocol, which the state changed two years ago after two death row inmates challenged it as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Though the Kentucky Supreme Court [official website] last week upheld lethal injection as the state's method of execution [JURIST report], ruling that the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain" in the challenge [JURIST report] brought by inmates Thomas Bowling and Ralph Baze, Franklin County Circuit Judge Sam McNamara's Wednesday ruling refers to procedures the state must follow before implementing administrative changes. Kentucky altered both the mix of drugs used in lethal injections and the administration procedures in response to Bowling and Baze's lawsuit when the two inmates brought the action in 2004. Kentucky has not declared a moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST news archive], but McNamara's ruling may successfully halt executions pending resolution of the controversy surrounding the state's new lethal injection protocol.

Kentucky's lethal injection protocol, like several other states, requires a first drug to make the inmate unconscious, a second drug to paralyze the inmate, and a third drug to stop the inmate's heart. Several constitutional challenges [JURIST news archive] to the procedure have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate feel excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. Inmates in Missouri and South Dakota have successfully challenged the lethal injections, while challenges in Florida and Texas [JURIST reports] have failed. Ohio recently executed its first inmate under a new lethal injection protocol [JURIST report] after a problematic execution last May prompted the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to review their methods. AP has more.

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