- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — One of the biggest capital punishment cases to come before the U.S. Supreme Court in a generation was put together largely by a young, fresh-out-of-law-school member of Kentucky’s overworked and underpaid corps of public defenders.

David Barron, 29, filed an appeal on behalf of two Kentucky death row inmates, arguing that the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections across the country can cause excruciating pain and thus amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

After three years of long hours on Mr. Barron’s part, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the case on Monday.

“I can’t believe I’ve got a case before the Supreme Court and I’m not even 30 years old,” Mr. Barron said.

This is the first time in more than a century that the high court will address the legality of a method of execution. Thirty-six states use lethal injection, and executions across the U.S. have come to a halt in the meantime.

Mr. Barron, an assistant public defender, arrived in Kentucky in 2004, just a year out of law school, to represent some of the worst of the worst: death row inmates. He was admitted to the Kentucky bar in July of that year, and filed his lethal-injection challenge that September, employing a strategy he had tested in other jurisdictions.

He was paired with John Palombi, a fellow public defender with at least a decade of experience.

The challenge was brought on behalf of convicted cop killer Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling, who was found guilty of killing a couple. Mr. Barron lost the cruel-and-unusual argument at a trial and at the Kentucky Supreme Court. But he kept pushing the case, hoping to keep his clients alive longer.

He beat long odds: The Supreme Court gets as many as 7,000 petitions a year but agrees to hear only 100 to 150 cases.

Lethal injections have come under legal attack across the country in recent years, with analysts and others arguing that it is not the humane, painless method of execution it was supposed to be.

Legal analysts said the Kentucky case apparently got the attention of the high court because it arrived fully developed. It went through a full-blown trial with more than 20 witnesses, who argued both sides of the question of whether inmates suffer extreme pain while immobilized, unable to cry out.

Death penalty proponent Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said the case gives the Supreme Court “a clear shot at the merits of the injection question.”

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