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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…

Kentucky Supreme Court rules death penalty IQ law is unconstitutional

I.Q. Test
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's practice for determining if someone is intellectually disabled and not eligible to receive the death penalty is “unconstitutional” and has established new guidelines.

The order changing Kentucky’s rules on capital punishment came in the case of Robert Keith Woodall, who was sentenced to death for raping and killing a 16-year-old girl in Greenville two decades ago.

The high court ordered a lower court to hold a hearing to determine if Woodall is intellectually disabled, preventing him from being executed. 

It is unconstitutional to sentence a mentally disabled person to death – which has been defined in Kentucky as someone with an IQ below 70.

However, Kentucky's high court ruled a person cannot be found intellectually disabled simply because they have an IQ of 71 or above. Instead, the justices determined defendants must undergo a “totality of the circumstances test,” including whether they have the ability to learn basic skills and adjust their behavior to circumstances, among other guidelines.

Those standards are in line with guidelines established by the U.S. Supreme Court that take other factors into account, according to the ruling. The federal court, for example, bars states from using a single, strict IQ standard to determine a prisoner's death penalty status. 

In its ruling, the Kentucky high court found the state's current law to be “an outdated test for ascertaining intellectual disability."

Kentucky was one of only a few states still using the fixed score cutoff to determine mental disability. 

Justice Sam Wright disagreed with the other high court judges that Kentucky’s current law is unconstitutional, arguing that judges already must hold a hearing to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is eligible for the death penalty.

Woodall pleaded guilty to kidnapping Sarah Hansen on Jan. 25, 1997, from a convenience store in western Kentucky, according to a story by the Associated Press. Woodall acknowledged that he raped the girl and slit her throat twice before throwing her in a lake. DNA evidence, fingerprints and footprints led to Woodall.

A jury sentenced Woodall to death, but a psychiatrist has since testified he was “intellectually disabled,” according to the ruling. The case has been sent back to Caldwell Circuit Court.

Source: WDRB News, Jason Riley, June 14, 2018


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

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