- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) | The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state improperly adopted the same three-drug lethal injection protocol that was upheld in the nation’s highest court and is used by dozens of other states.

The ruling does not challenge the technique of using three drugs to put inmates to death. It only says the state did not follow proper administrative procedures, including public hearings, before putting it in place.

The decision came just days after state Attorney General Jack Conway requested execution dates for three condemned inmates, one of whom, Ralph Baze, was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Baze, who is awaiting execution for the deaths of a sheriff and deputy, had previously challenged Kentucky’s lethal injection method in a case that rose all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and led all the states using a similar method to Kentucky’s to halt lethal injections until it was upheld.

Wednesday’s ruling could hold up the executions that the attorney general is trying to schedule. Gov. Steven L. Beshear had not acted on the requests for three execution dates as of Wednesday morning. In a statement, Mr. Beshear said the ruling would be reviewed before any decisions about what happens next are made.

Baze hailed the ruling, but said he knows it only forestalls his execution.

“It gets us through Christmas,” Baze told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “That’s a couple of months. That’s good.”

Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson wrote in a 4-3 decision that the state must comply with the Administrative Procedures Act and post public notices and hold hearings before adopting an execution protocol and may not execute anyone until it does so.

Justice Abramson said some details, such as where the drugs are stored and the identities of the execution team members, could be kept private, but the method itself requires a public airing under the law.

Justice Bill Cunningham dissented, saying requiring lethal injection will invite other challenges to electrocution or whatever method the state may adopt in the future.

“There is no end to the creative mind of the condemned,” Justice Cunningham said. “Our decision here today gives the guilty more time to live. It gives innocent families of the victims more time to suffer.”

Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron, head of the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association, said he would work with lawmakers to put executions, many of which have been delayed for years, back on course.

“We’ll be hopeful to meet with lawmakers and get this situation resolved as quickly as possible,” Mr. Cohron said.

David Barron, the public defender who represented the inmates, said the ruling will force Kentucky to properly adopt a lethal injection protocol.

“The Kentucky Supreme Court correctly decided that the citizens of Kentucky must have the opportunity to comment and provide input into how the most significant and severe punishment is carried out in their name,” he said.

Mr. Conway’s spokeswoman referred calls to the governor’s office.

Baze, 54, was convicted of killing Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe during an attempted arrest in 1992. Moore, 51, is awaiting execution for the 1979 kidnapping and murder of a Louisville man.

Kentucky has 35 death-row inmates. The state has executed three men since reinstating the death penalty in 1976.

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