As Court Stays Executions, Rights Group Says 'End the Death Penalty'

Pending the outcome of a challenge to the drug cocktail being used by the state of Oklahoma to carry out death sentences, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday issued stays of execution for three men, including one slated to be killed Thursday.

“Rather than continuing a practice that has been abandoned in all but a few counties—and risking more botched executions—Oklahoma should join the national trend and end the death penalty.” —Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International

As Common Dreams reported earlier this week, the challenge in Oklahoma centers around the inclusion of a drug called midazolam in the lethal injection cocktail now being used in the state’s executions. After a series of botched executions—evidenced by prolonged episodes in which those injected writhed in pain—a number of death row inmates initiated a challenge to the state’s use of the drug combination saying it amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment” and an affront to protections offered by the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

In a single sentence order, the nation’s highest court announced, “it is hereby ordered that petitioners’ executions using midazolam are stayed pending final disposition of this case.”

According to the Associated Press:

Dale Baich, an attorney representing the inmates, said, “We welcome today’s ruling staying executions in Oklahoma until the court can address serious questions about the state’s risky lethal injection protocol.”

“Midazolam is an inappropriate drug to use in executions,” he added.

Death penalty opponents also welcomed the news.

Speaking on behalf of Amnesty International USA, the group’s executive director Steven W. Hawkins said the court was right to put a hold on the executions in Oklahoma, but also went further as he put into question the entire death penalty system in the United States.

“The recent botched executions in Oklahoma and other states show the US’s capital punishment system is broken beyond repair,” Hawkins said. “The death penalty must be replaced with a system that comports with our sense of decency and the US’s obligations under international law. Rather than continuing a practice that has been abandoned in all but a few counties—and risking more botched executions—Oklahoma should join the national trend and end the death penalty.”