The Mississippi Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a death row inmate may challenge the use of a controversial lethal injection drug. The court ruled 5-4 that Charles Ray Crawford may pursue a challenge in state court under a federal civil rights statute [42 USC § 1983]. Crawford, convicted of the 1993 murder of Kristy Ray, is challenging the use of the sedative midazolam, which has been blamed for so-called “botched” executions in other states. Mississippi has not executed anyone since 2012 when the state used pentobarbital, which is no longer available from its original manufacturer.
Numerous states have switched to the three-drug protocol, which uses midazolam as a sedative before administering a second drug to paralyze and stop breathing and a third drug to stop the heart. Last week an inmate in Alabama coughed and struggled to breathe for 13 minutes [JURIST report] during the administration of midazolam, which death penalty opponents called an “avoidable disaster.” The US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Glossip v. Gross [SCOTUSblog materials] last year that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam as part of its lethal injection protocol does not violate [JURIST report] the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment [LII backgrounder]. Last month the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] affirmed the dismissal [JURIST report] of a case involving the 2014 botched execution [JURIST report] of Clayton Lockett, a death row inmate in Oklahoma.