Kentucky One Step Closer To Resuming Executions

Nov 16, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  --  Kentucky has moved one step closer to resuming executions - perhaps in the spring - by sending new rules for lethal injections to lawmakers. Once approved, the state will ask the judge who halted executions more than a year ago to lift his order.

The revised regulations specify that doses of the drug used in the one-drug execution - 3 grams of sodium thiopental or 5 grams of pentobarbital - be repeated if the inmate has not died within 10 minutes. In a two-drug execution, the warden may authorize continued injections of 60 milligrams of hydromorphone until the inmate dies if the initial injection is not deadly.

Also under the new rules, there will be no specific time limit on an inmate's last words. The warden at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville has the option of shutting off an overhead microphone if the statement is deemed "intentionally offensive" to witnesses or excessive in length.

The Justice Cabinet made the changes after a public hearing in September over the proposed switch from using three drugs to carry out an execution to a one or two-drug method. State officials filed a "statement of consideration" with the Legislative Research Commission on Thursday.

The switch became necessary after Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd struck down Kentucky's three-drug method more than a year ago and ordered a one-drug process put into place before any more executions would be allowed.

In making the move, Kentucky joins at least seven other states that use one drug. It also would allow the state to avoid having to defend the three-drug method at a trial.

"The protocols are similar to those successfully used by other states that have adopted one- or two-drug execution protocols," states the cabinet's response to proposed changes.

Steve Beshear still has two requests for executions on his desk - one for 56-year-old Ralph S. Baze for killing a sheriff and deputy in 1991 and one for six-time convicted killer Robert Foley.

The Justice Cabinet made no changes to the bulk of the regulations, including how much of the process is visible to witnesses, when an attorney may last see a client before an execution and how and when a determination about the inmate's competency is determined.

The new regulations are at least the sixth different method of carrying out injections among the 33 states that execute inmates. States now use a variety of procedures, including a three-drug protocol with sodium thiopental, a three-drug method with pentobarbital and single drug executions with sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. Missouri recently switched to the sedative propofal. Kentucky's new plan makes a half-dozen ways executions may be carried out.

The regulations are similar to Ohio's and cover a variety of details about how an execution is carried out, ranging from when an inmate is moved from death row to the holding cells where the execution chamber is housed to who pronounces the inmate dead and how.

Since moving to lethal injection in 1998, Kentucky has operated under rules calling for a single drug or combination of drugs. The state last used sodium thiopental, pancurionium bromide and potassium chloride, in 2008. The new regulations eliminate the use of that combination.

Shepherd's initial ruling halting all executions came as the state prepared to put to death Gregory L. Wilson, 55, for the 1987 rape, kidnapping and murder of 36-year-old Debbie Pooley in Kenton County. Wilson has since won a hearing in state court on whether he is mentally disabled and ineligible for execution.

The appeals of at least five Kentucky death row inmates have run their course, including 63-year-old David Eugene Matthews, condemned for the 1981 slaying of his estranged wife and mother-in-law in Louisville.

Kentucky has executed three people since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976, including one using the electric chair in 1997.