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

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…

Appeals court dismisses lawsuit filed by Arkansas judge barred from hearing death-penalty cases

The ban followed Griffen's participation in an anti-death-penalty rally at the state Capitol and a silent anti-death-penalty protest near the Governor's Mansion.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a central Arkansas circuit judge's lawsuit over being removed from hearing death-penalty cases must be dismissed.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who is also a Baptist minister, alleged in a lawsuit that the Arkansas Supreme Court justices violated his federal civil rights and retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights when they permanently banned him April 17, 2017, from presiding over death-penalty cases.

The ban followed Griffen's participation in an anti-death-penalty rally at the state Capitol and a silent anti-death-penalty protest near the Governor's Mansion. The protests took place the same day Griffen issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state from using one of the drugs in its lethal three-drug cocktail, effectively stopping executions at least until a longer hearing could be held a few days later. The drug's manufacturer had sought the order, saying the state illegally obtained the drug.

In an April 12 ruling, U.S. District Judge James Moody refused to dismiss Griffen's lawsuit against the individual justices in their official capacities, saying Griffen had presented sufficient facts to state a plausible claim.

But the justices from the state's high court asked the appellate court to order Moody to correct a "clear error" that they said he committed by refusing to dismiss the allegations.

In the ruling released on Monday, the appellate court said that Griffen's claims were not plausible

"[The Arkansas high court's order] does not prohibit Judge Griffen’s free exercise of religion: it does not 'compel affirmation of religious belief,' 'punish the expression of religious doctrines,' 'impose special disabilities on the basis of religious views,' or 'lend its power to one or the other side in controversies over religious authority,'" U.S. Circuit Judge Duane Benton wrote. "Rather, the order reflects neutral principles applicable to all judges who exhibit potential for bias."

Griffen's attorney said he was disappointed in the ruling and planned to petition the full 8th Circuit appeals court to review the case.

"We are as resolute as we have ever been, and we fully intend to restore Judge Griffen's constitutional rights," Mike Laux said.

Griffen is also facing ethics charges brought by judicial regulators. The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission special counsel last month formally accused the judge of nine violations of the Arkansas Judicial Canon, all stemming from his attendance at the prayer vigil and anti-death-penalty protest.

Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Associated Press, July 2, 2018

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