Judge Rules Tennessee Lethal Injection Protocol Unconstitutional

On Friday, Davidson County Judge Claudia Bonnyman ruled in favor of Stephen West’s challenge to the constitutionality of Tennessee’s current lethal injection protocol, stating it “allows for death by suffocation while conscious.” Her ruling was supported by the testimony of two medical experts, one an anesthesiologist, who determined that the levels of sodium thiopental were too low to render the inmates unconscious. In his closing argument, defense attorney Stephen Kissinger summarized the experts’ analysis. “The only drug that was at lethal levels was the pancurium bromide, the drug that paralyzes the inmates, so that they can’t breathe, so that they can’t cry out, and it suffocates them.”

The state will have the opportunity to appeal the ruling to the Tennessee Supreme Court. This appeal will likely occur immediately. The Tennessee Supreme Court has the option of affirming the lower court’s ruling, requiring the state to change the protocol to meet constitutional guidelines prior to West’s execution, or overturning the decision, thus clearing the way for West’s November 30th execution date.

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