- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The state of Alabama is arguing in court that claims of problems with its last lethal injection are “highly exaggerated and incorrect.”

Lawyers with the Alabama attorney general’s office urged the Alabama Supreme Court last week to set an execution date for Robert Melson, who was convicted of killing three Popeye’s restaurant employees during a 1995 robbery in Gadsden.

Melson’s lawyers contend that Alabama’s execution process is unconstitutionally cruel and usual punishment, citing witness reports that inmate Ronald Bert Smith coughed and heaved his chest repeatedly for the first 13 minutes of a lethal injection and moved his hands after two consciousness tests.

The state’s court filing doesn’t offer its own account of the execution, but said it is prepared to rebut the claim if Melson raises it in an ongoing lawsuit he joined over the state’s lethal injection process.

And meanwhile, they said, the state should waste no time in putting him to death.

“Melson’s reliance on unsubstantiated media reports from Smith’s execution (is) not a reason for this Court to delay setting his execution,” lawyers for the state wrote.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said in December that there was no evidence Smith’s execution went awry or that he suffered. He also said that the state followed a protocol found that federal courts have upheld as constitutional.

Melson’s lawyers argued earlier this month that Smith’s execution went “horribly wrong.”

“This Court should not set any execution dates until the question of the constitutionality of Alabama’s method of execution is resolved, particularly after Ronald Smith’s execution was badly botched,” they wrote.

Alabama uses the sedative midazolam as the first of three drugs in that process. Inmates have argued that the drug’s effects are unreliable could leave them in excruciating pain while being executed.

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