Montana Lawsuit Seeks Scrutiny of Lethal Injection Protocols

Affiliate: ACLU of Montana
July 11, 2006 12:00 am

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Court Order Blocking Execution Sought by ACLU and Broad Group of Advocates, Pending Review of Montana’s Procedures
HELENA, MT — Attorneys representing a broad array of interested parties today petitioned the Montana Supreme Court to bar execution by lethal injection until the protocols involved can be reviewed to be certain not to violate the United States Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

“This challenge is fueled by very recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court, and state and federal courts in a variety of jurisdictions regarding examination of lethal injection protocols,” said Ron Waterman, a Helena attorney who filed the petition on behalf of the Montana Association of Churches, Montana Catholic Conference, the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and other groups as well as numerous legislators and retired jurists.

The petition refers to the types of drugs administered — sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — and how those drugs are administered. It questions Montana’s statutory provision regarding the administration of the death penalty and asks whether Montana’s current method of administering lethal injections subjects the condemned to an unacceptable risk of suffering unconstitutional pain and suffering.

If the drugs work as claimed, sodium pentothal anesthetizes the prisoner, pancuronium bromide paralyzes the lungs and body, and potassium chloride causes muscle cramping and a fatal heart attack. However, the petition alleges sodium pentothal is a short-acting anesthetic. If it is improperly administered or wears off too early, the next drugs cause severe pain, leaving the prisoner paralyzed and helpless to complain.

Over the last several months, courts in California, Delaware, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, District of Columbia, and the United States Supreme Court have stayed executions pending investigations into the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols similar to Montana’s. Federal courts in two states, Missouri and Arkansas, have recently barred all executions by lethal injection until changes are made to those states’ lethal injection protocols.

“We have constitutions in this great nation and state which ensure all people are protected against cruel and unusual punishment,” said Waterman. “We have filed to seek injunctive relief until the Montana protocols are fully scrutinized to guarantee no one is inadvertently tortured in the process of being executed.”

The lawsuit requests a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions barring all executions in Montana by the state’s current means of lethal injection. Other parties to the suit include the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys; five state senators and six state representatives; retired jurists Supreme Court Justice John C. Sheehy and District Court Judge Gordon Bennett; and two Montana members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.

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