The state of Tennessee wants a group of death row inmates challenging the lethal injection execution procedure to suggest a better way to die.
If they can't, attorneys for the state say Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman has to uphold the state's lethal injection procedure as it is written.
Assistant Attorney General Scott Sutherland outlined in opening statements Tuesday evidence that will be presented during a trial this week and next. He is defending Tennessee Department of Corrections protocol that says inmates shall be executed with an injection of compounded pentobarbital.
More than 30 inmates on death row say that procedure violates Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Their attorneys say the compounded drug is not reliable and risks prolonged death of several hours.
The case is expected to rely heavily on expert testimony.
Sutherland said based on several U.S. Supreme Court rulings, including one last week known as Glossip, the inmates must prove the state's procedure creates risk of lingering death or suffering and that there is a better alternative.
He noted that courts in other states have upheld the use of pentobarbital as a constitutional method of capital punishment. The most recent of those was the Glossip case, when the nation's highest court ruled Oklahoma's procedure - which uses a different drug - was constitutional.
Stephen Kissinger, an attorney with Federal Defender Services of Eastern Tennessee who is representing the inmates, said in an opening statement that Tennessee's procedure creates too much risk of harm and pain to inmates.
He said state protocol calls for prison guards, not trained medical staff, to administer deadly doses. He said that increases the potential for mistakes that will cause inmates pain.
Kissinger said the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in past cases that the attorneys do not have to provide an alternative method of execution.
The outcome of the trial could lead to execution dates being set, or the judge could direct the state to redo its protocol. Bonnyman's decision will likely be appealed, which means the death penalty will be tied up in court for a while.
Source: The Tennessean, July 7, 2015
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