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Tennessee execution: Billy Ray Irick tortured to death, expert says in new filing

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Editor's note: Reporter Dave Boucher was one of seven state-required media witnesses at Irick's execution. 
Billy Ray Irick felt searing pain akin to torture before he died in a Tennessee prison in August, but steps taken in carrying out his execution blocked signs of suffering, according to a doctor who reviewed information about the lethal injection.
In new court filings entered late Thursday amidst an ongoing legal challenge of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol, Dr. David Lubarsky said statements from people who witnessed the execution indicated the controversial drug midazolam failed to ensure Irick could not feel pain during his death.
As a result, the death row inmate “experienced the feeling of choking, drowning in his own fluids, suffocating, being buried alive, and the burning sensation caused by the injection of the potassium chloride,” Lubarsky wrote in the filing.
The document also says the state did not follow its own lethal injection protocol, raising questio…

Arkansas high court lifts stays for 2 death row inmates

Bruce Earl Ward, left, and Don William Davis
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ Supreme Court on Thursday lifted stays of execution for two condemned killers, saying they were not entitled to special assistance from mental health professionals before and during their trials.

Bruce Ward and Don Davis were among eight prisoners scheduled to die over 11 days last spring, but their April 17 executions were postponed so the state’s high court could consider their arguments that, by law, independent psychiatrists should have been available to help develop trial strategies. Lawyers for the state argued that the men didn’t meet the minimum threshold to qualify for such aid and that they were “sandbagging” the court to delay their executions.

The court said the men’s mental health issues had been sufficiently addressed.

“While the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to a competent psychiatrist, it does not guarantee a psychiatrist who will reach the medical conclusions the defense team desires,” Justice Shawn Womack wrote as the court unanimously moved Davis closer to the execution chamber.

Justice Karen Baker used similar language as the court voted 5-2 against Ward. She said his latest argument “rehashes” previous ones and noted he refused to cooperate in previous mental health evaluations at the state hospital.

The federal public defender’s office has 90 days in which to appeal the rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it intends to do so, lawyer Scott Braden said. “The psychiatrist has to be independent and available. Just sending someone to the state hospital is not sufficient.”

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that once her office confirms Davis’ status in the courts, the next step would be asking Gov. Asa Hutchinson to set an execution date.

“Ward does have an active case before the Supreme Court still. Davis does not, so he has exhausted all his appeals,” she said. “I will be discussing with my team to ensure that is in the fact the case.”

Davis, 55, was convicted of killing Jane Daniel after breaking into her Rogers home in 1990 and shooting her with a .44-caliber revolver he found there. Ward, 61, was convicted in 1990 for the strangulation death of convenience store clerk Rebecca Lynn Doss, 18.

Arkansas had planned to execute eight prisoners over 11 days last spring — Ward first and Davis second — because its supply of an execution drug was about to expire, but it only executed four in eight days.

From the state’s current drug supply, the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide, which stops the inmate’s lungs, is set to expire after midnight on Thursday. The state’s potassium chloride, which stops the heart, expires Aug. 31 and its sedative midazolam is good through Jan. 31, 2019.

Hutchinson said he had not heard from the Department of Correction on whether it has an adequate supply of drugs, but that he would take the “appropriate steps” if Rutledge tells him Davis could be executed.

Twice in the past year, Arkansas’ Department of Correction has shown it can obtain additional supplies.

In the cases decided Thursday, the inmates said they had failed to receive assistance required after a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court targeting mentally ill indigent defendants. The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed that decision last spring but left it largely unchanged.

In separate cases still pending, Ward and Jack Greene each say Arkansas’ prison system director, Wendy Kelley, shouldn’t be an “arbiter of sanity” and declare them eligible for execution because her boss, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, sets execution dates.

Source: The Washington Post, Associated Press Kelly P. Kissel, March 1, 2018


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but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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