- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006


The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear a Florida death row inmate’s appeal that challenges the state’s lethal injection method, just hours after the court dramatically stepped in to stop the man’s execution.

Clarence Hill, 48, had been strapped to a gurney with IV lines running into his arms Tuesday night when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy issued a temporary stay, Hill’s attorney said.

The full court made the stay permanent yesterday and told attorneys the case would be argued April 26. A Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman said Hill would be moved off of death watch, a cell block adjacent to the execution chamber, and back to death row.

“What a fantastic day. What a fantastic day,” said D. Todd Doss, Hill’s attorney. “What a relief.”

Hill argues that the three chemicals used in Florida executions — sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — cause pain, making his execution cruel and unusual punishment. The justices’ eventual ruling, however, will be limited to procedural questions about how courts should deal with similar last-minute appeals.

He is on death row for the Oct. 19, 1982, slaying of Pensacola police Officer Stephen Taylor, 26, and the wounding of his partner, Larry Bailly, when they responded to a silent alarm of a bank robbery.

Hill’s case allows the court to revisit a 2004 ruling in an Alabama death case, in which justices said David Larry Nelson could pursue a last-ditch claim that his death by injection would be unconstitutionally cruel because of his damaged veins.

Although Hill does not have damaged veins, his appeal cites medical studies about the drug cocktail used by Florida and other states.

Mr. Doss told justices that there is a risk that Hill will not be fully anesthetized at the time of his death and that courts should look at his latest claims.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had said that Hill’s case was improperly filed.

Like the Nelson case, the new appeal is more technical, about the process for stopping an execution, and not a direct constitutional challenge to the lethal injection method.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is retiring, wrote the last decision, which said that although Nelson had used his traditional appeals, he should not have been barred from pursuing the issue that came up in the final days before the scheduled execution.

Justice O’Connor said at the time that the court was not going to “open the floodgates to all manner of method-of-execution challenges.”

Hill’s attorney had told the Supreme Court that lower courts were conflicted in how to handle inmate appeals after that decision.

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