LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky prosecutors on Thursday asked a judge to lift a ban on executions, saying they have addressed the court's concerns about how the state will carry out lethal injections.
The Kentucky Attorney General's Office said the new one- and two-drug execution protocols are sound and they want Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd to clear the way for the state's first execution since 2008.
A hearing is set for March 18.
Earlier this year, Kentucky switched from using three drugs to carry out a lethal injection to a method that uses 3 grams of sodium thiopental or 5 grams of pentobarbital — similar to the method used by Ohio. If those drugs are not available within seven days of an execution date, the state may use a two-drug method involving continued injections of 60 milligrams of a combination of Midazolam and hydromorphone.
Shepherd halted lethal injections in 2010 as the state prepared to execute Gregory L. Wilson, 56, for the 1987 rape, kidnapping and murder of 36-year-old Debbie Pooley in Kenton County.
Shepherd expressed concerns about whether an inmate's mental state could be properly determined before an execution and later ordered the state to switch to a single-drug or two-drug method. The change brings Kentucky in line with at least seven states using the single-drug execution protocol. Kentucky previously used sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
Attorneys for death row inmates have argued that the three-drug method caused an unnecessary risk of pain and asked a judge to order a switch to a single-drug execution process. Since Kentucky made the switch, the chemicals used in single-drug executions have been in dwindling supply.
Prosecutors Heather Fryman and Julie Scott Jernigan told Shepherd defense attorneys are hoping to extend the litigation and force Kentucky into an execution process that can't be carried out because the drugs are in short supply. The attorneys dismissed defense arguments as a "Catch 22."
States such as South Dakota have turned to compounding pharmacies to obtain drugs, the prosecutors said.
"Other states have found supplies," Jernigan and Fryman wrote. "Thus, unless and until the department has attempted to obtain substances, and fails, any discussion of which protocol might be used, and what substances might be used, is purely academic and speculative."
Public defender David Barron, who represents multiple death row inmates, said he will oppose lifting the order.
Obtaining drugs for executions has become a tricky business in recent years. Companies that make sodium thiopental, a fast-acting anesthetic, have halted production of the drug in the United States, in part because of its use in executions. The maker of pentobarbital also opposes its use in executions.
Kentucky has executed three inmates since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, with the last execution being carried out in 2008. At least two and as many as seven inmates are at or near the end of their appeals.
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