Court halts California execution amid lethal drug shortage

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

LOS ANGELES - The California Supreme Court Wednesday denied the state’s attempt to rush through its first execution in five years before the expiration date Friday of the only dose of a drug needed to perform the lethal injection.

The decision came after a federal judge on Tuesday ordered a stay on the planned execution of Albert Greenwood Brown. US District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel said the close deadline did not give him enough time to consider the legality of the execution’s timetable and the method, which Fogel had found to be flawed in 2006.

The Supreme Court said that the state’s plan to execute Brown shortly before the prison was to run out of an essential drug, meant “the state has itself contributed to circumstances incompatible with the orderly resolution, pursuant to normal procedures, of pending legal issues in connection with executions under the new regulations”.

The decisions mean it is likely that Brown, a convicted child rapist and murderer, will remain on death row until at least next year. Brown has been on death row for 30 years after being convicted of the 1980 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl.

California authorities had scheduled an execution for Thursday with only a small amount of the drug sodium thiopental remaining. The sedative is part of the lethal cocktail for execution but had an expiration date Friday, just three hours after the slated execution, exposing California to criticism from activists and Brown’s lawyers, who say the state was rushing to carry out the punishment.

Sodium thiopental sedates the condemned prisoner to the point of unconsciousness, before lethal drugs are introduced into the body.

Hospira, the sole US manufacturer of the drug, has said new supplies will not be available until late next year, The New York Times reported. Other US states, including Kentucky and Oklahoma, have already had to delay executions.

Hospira has expressed displeasure at the fact its product was being used in executions, according to The New York Times.

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