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Texas appeals court halts lethal injection execution

[JURIST] The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has stayed the lethal injection execution of an inmate who was scheduled to be put to death Wednesday, giving state officials 30 days to answer questions about whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The US Supreme Court last week stayed the execution [JURIST report] of another Texas inmate, days after Texas executed a convicted murder despite the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition], a case reviewing whether lethal injection in unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. The Texas court ruled 4-3 Tuesday that the execution of Heliberto Chi [TDCJ materials; docket information] should be put on hold, and a lawyer with the Texas Defender Service said that it is unlikely that any executions will occur in Texas until the Court of Criminal Appeals makes a final ruling on the issue. An additional four executions are currently scheduled to take place in the next several months.

Texas, like many other states, uses a controversial three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart. The Kentucky Supreme Court [official website] ruled in the Baze case that the state's current method of lethal injection, the same method Texas uses, does not violate the constitution [JURIST report] because the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain." 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 suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. The New York Times has more. The Houston Chronicle has local coverage.

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