- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The state of Alabama cannot execute a death-row inmate next month as planned because a 2-year-old stay of execution remains in place, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Tommy Arthur was scheduled to be put to death on Feb. 19 in the state’s first execution using a new combination of lethal-injection drugs.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins noted that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Arthur’s execution in 2012 after the prisoner challenged the combination of drugs the state was then using for executions as potentially cruel and unusual punishment. Watkins said that stay has not been lifted, and added that Arthur could amend his existing lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s new execution drugs.

“We are pleased and relieved that a stay of execution remains in place, given the fundamental importance of ensuring that the mixture of drugs the state of Alabama proposes to use to execute Mr. Arthur be subject to judicial review,” said Arthur’s lead attorney, Suhana Han.

The attorney general’s office did not immediately comment.

Arthur has been on death row since 1983 after being convicted of the murder-for-hire of a Muscle Shoals man. His execution has been postponed multiple times.

Watkins said there was a “disconnect” between the 11th Circuit’s 2012 ruling - which ordered that the stay remain in place “until further order of this court” - and the Alabama Supreme Court order setting an execution date for Arthur.

Alabama had been unable to carry out executions because of a shortage of execution drugs. The Alabama Department of Corrections in September announced it was turning to a new three-drug combination and asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for multiple inmates, including Arthur.

The new drug protocol calls for the sequential injections of 500 milligrams of midazolam hydrochloride, a sedative; 600 milligrams of rocuronium bromide, a neuromuscular blocking agent that stops breathing; and 240 “milliequivalents” of potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Arthur’s attorneys said midazolam hydrochloride is unreliable as a sedative and was used in “botched” executions in other states in which inmates gasped, writhed or took longer than expected to die. The Alabama attorney general’s office argued in court filings that there was no proof the inmates suffered and called Arthur’s legal challenges part of a long pattern of trying to avoid a trip to the death chamber by repeatedly challenging the execution method.

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