US Supreme Court backs lethal injection drug

2015-06-29 17:18
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Washington - The US Supreme Court on Monday upheld the use of a controversial sedative in executions by lethal injection, saying it does not violate the Constitution.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court's five conservative-leaning justices said that the plaintiffs - death row inmates in Oklahoma - failed to show that midazolam constituted a "substantial risk of severe pain".

As a result, they said, the drug does not violate the Constitution's eighth amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The decision was a setback for opponents of capital punishment in the United States, the only Western country that still carries out executions.

"It's hard to imagine what could be crueller than a prolonged, torturous death, or more unusual," said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

"The death penalty is on the outs... Yet that message clearly hasn't risen up to the highest court in the land," she said.

The Supreme Court, in an April 2008 decision, upheld the constitutionality of execution by lethal injection.

But since then, a refusal by manufacturers - mainly European - to supply the required drugs has led states like Oklahoma to seek out alternatives, including midazolam.

In April 2014, Oklahoma death-row inmate Clayton Lockett took an agonising 43 minutes to die and could be seen writhing in pain during the prolonged execution.

A few months earlier, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die, while Arizona death-row convict Joseph Wood took 117 minutes in July 2014.

Lethal injection executions are expected to take 10 minutes, and in all three cases, the men could be seen gasping for air.

A fourth plaintiff, Charles Warner, was executed in Oklahoma in January this year, after the Supreme Court rejected his last-minute appeal for clemency.

On the execution table, Warner - convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old girl - said it felt like his body was "on fire".

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