Nashville Scene has a post at it's website, "Judge Stops Sxecution."
A federal judge has just blocked next week's execution of Jerome Harbison. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that Tennessee's lethal injection procedures violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by presenting "a substantial risk of unnecessary pain."
At the same time, Trauger denounced state Correction Commissioner George Little for rejecting the recommendations of a committee that studied execution procedures this year. The committee, conducting a review that Gov. Phil Bredesen ordered, offered recommendations to safeguard against botched executions. But Trauger said Little "was deliberately indifferent to [Harbison's] excessive risk of pain."
Nashville Scene also has extensive coverage of the federal court hearing in, "Executing Justice."
During four days of testimony this month, lawyers successfully painted Gov. Phil Bredesen’s much-vaunted review of lethal injection procedures this year as a sham whose basic purpose was, not to ensure that executions are humane, but to help the state survive court challenges. To avoid any possible legal hiccups in the execution schedule, higher-ups vetoed the review committee’s main proposal, according to the court testimony.
The federal court hearing was filled with absurdities that would be laughable were the consequences not so serious.
The state’s own expert witness, Dr. Mark Dershwitz of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, agreed there’s “something amiss” if an execution takes more than nine minutes. But on May 9, only nine days after what were supposed to be new and improved lethal injection procedures were put into place, it took 17 minutes for the state to execute Philip Workman. “It was remarkable to me when I read about it,” Dershwitz told the court, going on to suggest that perhaps the time of Workman’s death was inaccurately recorded.
Incredibly, the state has yet to test fluid samples from Workman’s body to show whether he was properly sedated before a searing, heart-stopping drug went into his veins. Dr. Bruce Levy, the Davidson County medical examiner, testified that he sent the samples to one laboratory, which decided it wasn’t capable of testing them and so sent them to another lab. But a federal public defender said he contacted that lab and there was no record of any such samples. “I would have no explanation for that,” Levy testified. Levy now tells the Scene that he has confirmed the location of the fluid but still doesn’t have the test results.
The testimony comes at a crucial time. Even with Bredesen commuting a death sentence last week for the first time since taking office, Tennessee is on a pace of executions almost like Texas. There have been three in the last 15 months, including one last week, and two more are possible before the end of the year—that is, unless federal Judge Aleta Trauger intervenes by ruling that the state’s lethal injection methods are unconstitutional.
Last week Bredesen may have blunted the impression that he’s uncaring by commuting to life without parole the sentence of Michael Joe Boyd, who was scheduled to be executed on Oct. 24. The governor concluded that Boyd, now known as Mika’eel Abdullah Abdus-Samad, received “grossly inadequate” legal representation. He was convicted of killing a man in Memphis during a 1986 robbery.
But Bredesen is a strong supporter of the death penalty. Last week, he allowed Tennessee’s first execution by electric chair since 1960. State law allows anyone sentenced to death before 1999 to choose between electrocution and lethal injection. If the governor thinks electrocution is acceptable, that may explain why he’s been unmoved by arguments against lethal injection. It’s up to Judge Trauger, ironically a political ally and close friend of Bredesen’s, to force changes.