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Supreme Court upholds use of drug implicated in botched executions

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM
The controversial midazolam

WASHINGTON (AP):

A deeply divided Supreme Court upheld the use of a controversial drug in lethal-injection executions yesterday, even as two dissenting justices said for the first time they think it's "highly likely" the death penalty itself is unconstitutional.

Trading sharp words on their last day together until the fall, the justices voted 5-4 in a case from Oklahoma that the sedative midazolam can be used in executions without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The drug was used in executions in Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma in 2014 that took longer than usual and raised concerns that it did not perform its intended task of putting inmates into a coma-like sleep.

Last April's execution of Clayton Lockett was the first time Oklahoma used midazolam. Lockett writhed on the gurney, moaned and clenched his teeth for several minutes before prison officials tried to halt the process. Lockett died after 43 minutes.

Executions in Arizona and Ohio that used midazolam also went on longer than expected as the inmates gasped and made other noises before dying.

Meanwhile, the court challenge has prompted Oklahoma to approve nitrogen gas as an alternative death penalty method if lethal injections aren't possible either because of a court ruling or a drug shortage.