- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A Louisiana man who murdered his 6-year-old stepson two decades ago won’t be executed this week as planned, while a federal judge reviews the state’s newly changed lethal injection plans to determine if they are constitutional.

The state Department of Corrections said Monday that it agreed to a 90-day postponement for Christopher Sepulvado’s execution, which had been scheduled for Wednesday.

“The stay will allow additional time for review and responses to outstanding issues related to the execution,” corrections department spokeswoman Pam Laborde said in a statement.

Drugs used in executions have become more difficult to acquire, as companies have been resistant to sell them for such a purpose.

The state had trouble purchasing the drug that its execution protocol said would be used for Sepulvado’s lethal injection.

So, the corrections department abruptly changed its method last week, announcing it was altering its execution plans to a two-drug combination used in Ohio that includes the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.

The corrections department said it has the two chemicals.

But Sepulvado’s lawyers wanted more time to study the new plans and determine whether the switch could violate Sepulvado’s constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

“It was prudently agreed by all parties that more time was needed to conduct a full evidentiary hearing on the constitutionality of using the new (drug) combination,” Gary Clements, a lawyer for Sepulvado and director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, said in an email.

The condemned killer’s attorneys asked a Baton Rouge-based federal judge and the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution plans. U.S. District Judge James Brady will hold a trial about the constitutionality of the new execution protocol on April 7.

“The Department has been committed throughout the entire process to following the court’s direction, and carrying out the sentence humanely and in accordance with the law,” Laborde said.

Sepulvado’s lawyers say the two-drug combination increases the risk of painful and prolonged death and could violate Sepulvado’s constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

An Ohio execution on Jan. 16 used the two-drug method planned by Louisiana for the first time in the United States. Sepulvado’s attorneys cite witness statements describing the man executed in Ohio as gasping, struggling and convulsing for up to 15 minutes after the drugs began flowing.

Several states are considering returning to old execution methods because they have had trouble securing lethal injection drugs.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said he expects to support legislation that will give the Department of Corrections more execution options in Louisiana. State lawmakers during their three-month session that begins March 10 will consider whether to broaden the legal methods for putting a condemned prisoner to death.

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