lethal injection procedure

A county judge has upheld Tennessee's method of execution by lethal injection. The ruling is the latest in the state's years-old death penalty fight.

Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled the protocol was constitutional, saying a group of death row inmates and their attorneys failed to show that the use of a single injection of the drug pentobarbital, compounded especially for the state, violates the Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Kentucky's Death Penalty: A Comprehensive Look

Aug 12, 2014
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Allen Ault admits to being a murderer.

But Ault isn’t behind bars, nor was he tried for his “crimes”; he’s currently dean of Criminal Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. But as Ault told an interim joint committee on the judiciary earlier this month, he considers his actions as a director of corrections akin to premeditated murder.

“I have murdered five people as an agent of the state,” he said.

Ault said that many of his former colleagues have committed suicide or retreated into drugs to cope with their actions

In 1977, death row inmate Gary Mark Gilmore chose to be executed by a firing squad. Gilmore was strapped to a chair at the Utah State Prison, and five officers shot him.

The media circus that ensued prompted a group of lawmakers in nearby Oklahoma to wonder if there might be a better way to handle executions. They approached Dr. Jay Chapman, the state medical examiner at the time, who proposed using three drugs, based loosely on anesthesia procedures at the time: one drug to knock out the inmates, one to relax or paralyze them, and a final drug that would stop their hearts.

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The Tennessee Supreme Court has decided not to hear an appeal by two death row inmates who claim changes to the state's lethal injection procedure are unconstitutional.  The state's high court declined Monday to hear the case brought by Stephen Michael West and Billy Ray Irick.