"Execution-method changes called unconstitutional," is the AP filing by Matt Volz, via the San Francisco Chronicle.
Montana prison officials revised lethal-injection procedures after a judge ruled the previous methods were unconstitutional, but a civil rights organization and attorneys for a death row inmate say the changes still put condemned prisoners at risk of unnecessary suffering.
"This new policy, written by Department of Corrections' staff, was created without any input from medical or scientific professionals and it reflects that lack of expertise," ACLU of Montana attorney Anna Conley said in a statement. "There is no clarity about the drugs to be used, and prisoners are at risk of dying in agony as they slowly suffocate while still conscious."
Department of Corrections officials referred questions to the state attorney general's office, where spokesman John Barnes said a court filing was being prepared in response to the allegations.
The state Department of Corrections in January released a new execution protocol that calls for a two-drug instead of a three-drug injection after the ACLU said the original procedure amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
The new procedure calls for an injection of the barbiturate sodium pentothal to put the inmate into a coma, followed by an injection of a paralytic agent called pancuronium bromide.
"Why utilize a two-drug protocol and risk the chance of the prisoner experiencing death by conscious suffocation when a one drug option completely removes that risk?" Waterman wrote.
Only the state Legislature can make the changes the Department of Corrections did, and only state lawmakers can create a one-drug procedure, he said.
Sherlock ruled in September that the previous procedures did not ensure qualified individuals were verifying the inmate was incapable of feeling pain before the final drugs were administered, and there were inconsistencies between what state law requires and what the agency's manual says.
"Montana executions: lawyers want summary decision that could affect Ronald Smith," is coverage by the Canadian Press. It's via the Vancouver Sun.
A Montana judge is being asked for a summary decision on a request by the state that seeks approval to bypass the legislature over the way executions are carried out.
A ruling by District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock last year declared the state's method of execution unconstitutional. That gave hope to Canadian Ronald Smith, who faces the death penalty for the 1982 murders of two Montana men.
But the state of Montana convinced Sherlock to hear its arguments in an attempt to bypass the need for legislature approval before the state can change its execution method to address the judge's concerns.
A three-day hearing was scheduled for next week. But lead lawyer Ron Waterman of the American Civil Liberties Union says he has filed a request for a summary judgment, which would allow the judge to weigh the evidence he has already seen and make a ruling without full court proceedings.
The ACLU has issued a news release, "Revised Execution Protocol Remains Unconstitutional." Here's the beginning:
Recent changes to Montana’s lethal injection protocol by the Montana Department of Corrections create an unreasonable risk of subjecting prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment and violate the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.
The ACLU of Montana today submitted a brief in District Court calling for the protocol to be declared unconstitutional under the U.S. and Montana Constitutions
“This new policy, written by Department of Corrections’ staff, was created without any input from medical or scientific professionals and it reflects that lack of expertise. The two-drug protocol is untested and not in use in any other state in the country. There is no clarity about the drugs to be used, and prisoners are at risk of dying in agony as they slowly suffocate while still conscious,” said ACLU of Montana Staff Attorney Anna Conley.