- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A lawyer for a death row inmate told the Mississippi Supreme Court on Wednesday that his client should be able to challenge plans to execute him using a drug compounded from raw ingredients, which he contends risks contamination.

The state, though, argued that Charles Ray Crawford should have raised those claims before the high court under a Mississippi law controlling death penalty appeals and can’t file a fresh lawsuit in a trial court.

Several justices gave a hostile reception to Jim Craig, arguing on behalf of the Tippah County inmate, suggesting he was trying to open new avenues to delay death sentences.

“You can’t have lawsuits flying everywhere in every court,” Chief Justice William Waller Jr. told Craig. “You’ve got one track the train is running on.”

The Hinds County Circuit Court suit unsuccessfully challenged Mississippi’s decision to buy ingredients for the execution drug pentobarbital and have a pharmacist combine them. The suit alleges that risks ineffective or contaminated drugs, which could in turn result in an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual execution.

Craig told justices multiple times under questioning that he could cite little precedent to support his case. However, he told justices they were thinking of the challenge the wrong way, saying it doesn’t contest Crawford’s conviction or sentence.

“Whether we win or lose, Mr. Crawford’s conviction and death sentence remain intact,” Craig said. But he said that, in the same way inmates can sue over poor prison conditions, they can sue over execution methods.

Assistant Attorney General Wilson Minor urged justices to reject that argument.

“It’s an attack on his sentence,” Minor said. “It’s saying his sentence is going to be carried out in an unconstitutional manner.”

Multiple justices asked Craig why they shouldn’t dismiss the case after Minor told the court that Mississippi had destroyed all its stores of pentobarbital and couldn’t obtain the drug or any more ingredients in the United States. The state now says it will use a different sedative, midazolam, as part of its three-drug process. State law specifies an “ultra-short-acting barbiturate” followed by a paralyzing agent and a drug that stops an inmate’s heart. In a separate suit representing other death row inmates, Craig argues midazolam doesn’t qualify as a short-acting barbiturate.

Craig said multiple states have executed prisoners using pentobarbital this year and said Mississippi hasn’t ruled it out, so it could try to use the drug again.

“There is a probability, because the vast majority of the executions in the last year have been with pentobarbital, that Mississippi could obtain pentobarbital, and it would be within the current policy for them to do so,” the lawyer said.

Crawford, 50, was sentenced to death for the 1992 slaying of Kristy Ray in Tippah County. While free on bond after being charged with rape and aggravated assault, Crawford was arrested and charged with murder in the death of Ray. Convicted first for rape and later for murder, prosecutors won the death penalty by arguing Crawford’s past as a rapist constituted an aggravating factor.

Last year, the court rejected an appeal over the rape conviction. Earlier this month justices, rejected an appeal alleging Crawford’s earlier lawyers had been ineffective.

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Online: Video of oral arguments: https://bit.ly/2aX0n8T

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy .

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