Tenn. inmate's challenge to lethal injection will go forward - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Tenn. inmate's challenge to lethal injection will go forward

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - An attorney for a Tennessee death row inmate challenging the state's lethal injection method says the case will go forward despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against a Kentucky inmate with similar claims.

Last September, a U.S. district judge ruled in a case brought by Edward Jerome Harbison that Tennessee's three-drug lethal injection method amounted to cruel and unusual punishment because of the "substantial risk of unnecessary pain" to the inmate.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then granted a stay of execution to Harbison, who was convicted in the 1983 beating death of an elderly woman.

The appeals court had been waiting for the Supreme Court's ruling before hearing Harbison's case.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's use of lethal injection executions.       The justices, by a 7-2 vote, turned back a constitutional challenge to the procedures in place in Kentucky, which uses three drugs to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates, similar to the method used in Tennessee and roughly three dozen other states.

Kentucky has had only one execution by lethal injection and it did not present any obvious problems, both sides in the Supreme Court case agreed.

But executions elsewhere, in Florida and Ohio, took much longer than usual, with strong indications that the prisoners suffered severe pain in the process.

Harbison attorney Steve Kissinger says his client's appeal will still go forward, and could even reach the Supreme Court. He believes the facts of the Tennessee case are different enough from the Kentucky case that the Supreme Court ruling will not affect it.

"The proof before the Supreme Court was just what was offered in Kentucky. It's not the same proof as in Mr. Harbison's case," said Kissinger, an assistant federal community defender.

Sharon Curtis Flair, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, said attorneys there can not yet comment on how the Supreme Court decision might affect the Tennessee case because they have not had a chance to study the opinion.

Two other Tennessee inmates have been granted stays of execution pending the outcomes of both the Kentucky case and the Harbison case.

A federal judge issued a stay of execution for Paul Dennis Reid, a death row inmate facing multiple death sentences for a series of slayings at fast food restaurants, in December of last year.

Earlier that same month another federal judge had postponed the execution of Pervis Payne, who was convicted of fatally stabbing a Millington woman and her 2-year-old daughter in 1987.

 

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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