- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004


The Supreme Court yesterday used the case of Alabama death row inmate David Larry Nelson for a stark discussion about execution methods, and whether federal judges may consider last-minute challenges to punishment.

The court also said it would consider workplace protections for older employees, in a case that could make age bias lawsuits tougher to prove.

In the Alabama case, Nelson had asked to be sent to the electric chair. But when his date with the executioner came, the chair was no longer in use. His medical condition would make the new punishment of lethal injection unconstitutionally cruel unless special precautions were taken, attorney Bryan Stevenson of Montgomery, Ala., told the justices.

Because of the condition of his veins — damaged by drug use — it may be impossible to insert an intravenous line without a type of surgery, Mr. Stevenson said.

Justices peppered Mr. Stevenson and Alabama’s attorney with questions about how his death sentence would be carried out, with the possibility of prison staff cutting into his neck or thigh to get to a good vein.

Alabama claims Nelson’s case is a prime example of a sluggish justice system and the need for limits on appeals. He has been on death row more than 20 years.

Regarding workplace protections, justices will take up an appeal from police officers in Mississippi’s capital to decide whether older employees have rights similar to those of minorities when it comes to discrimination claims.

Also yesterday, the court:

• Agreed to decide whether people convicted of a crime overseas can be barred from owning a gun in the United States.

• Heard arguments over whether a court can force the federal government to protect undeveloped land in Utah from off-road vehicles.

• Declined to take up the appeal of Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody Harrelson, who is serving a life sentence for a 1979 Texas murder.

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