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Justices uphold injections; executions expected to resume

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Staff and Wire Reports | April 17, 2008 at 6:00 a.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lethal-injection method used by states around the country to administer the death penalty, clearing the way for a resumption of executions after a seven-month hiatus.

By 7-2, the court rejected challenges to the Kentucky execution procedure brought by two death-row inmates, holding that they had failed to show that the risks of pain from mistakes in an otherwise "humane lethal execution protocol" amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, which is banned by the Constitution.

"Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of objectively intolerable risk of harm that qualifies as cruel and unusual," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court's lead opinion.

In Arkansas, four death row inmates have filed a similar challenge to the state's lethal-injection procedure, and the state had declared a halt to all executions until the Supreme Court case was decided. Arkansas officials said Wednesday that they were still studying the opinion and that it was too soon to say when executions in the state will resume.

The lethal-injection fight has centered on a drug combination that has been used in almost 1,000 lethal injections across the country and is now virtually the exclusive U.S. execution method. The three-drug method is used by 35 states - including Arkansas - and the federal government.

Under the three-drug method, inmates are injected with sodium pentothal, an anesthetic, followed by pancuronium bromide, which shuts down the lungs and paralyzes the body. The final chemical, potassium chloride, induces a fatal heart attack.

For more information see today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Subscribers can read the story here on ArkansasOnline.

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