4 death row inmates want to block executions

Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The life of Mississippi death row inmate Dale Leo Bishop, scheduled to die next week, is back in the hands of a federal judge.

Bishop is one of four condemned prisoners who filed a 2007 lawsuit to stop executions in Mississippi. They say the state’s method of lethal injection is unconstitutional because it might cause pain.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court and the Mississippi Supreme Court have rejected Bishop’s appeals on a 1998 murder, the federal lawsuit is his next hope for reprieve. He is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. July 23.

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In motion a filed Monday and labeled “urgent and necessitous,” the four inmates’ attorneys accused state officials of withholding information about the way executions are carried out. The Mississippi Department of Corrections and the attorney general’s office have “historically refused to produce” information about the procedures, according to the motion.

“This court can have no assurance that it has the complete facts on how Mississippi executes prisoners,” the inmates claim.

MDOC officials and the attorney general’s office declined comment on Monday. However, Attorney General Jim Hood argued last week that the inmates’ claims fall outside the statute of limitations and that Mississippi’s procedure is constitutional.

Still, the prisoners’ attorneys want the court to block the executions and force the state to produce all documents dealing with Mississippi’s three-drug protocol. They also want to conduct “depositions of persons who oversaw or witnessed the five previous lethal injection executions in Mississippi.”

U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper did not immediately rule on the matter.

Bishop would be the second prisoner put to death in Mississippi since April, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lethal injection is an acceptable method of execution in the United States. That ruling came after two death row inmates in Kentucky challenged the procedure.

The Mississippi inmates say Mississippi’s method is different from the one used in Kentucky. Hood has described the procedures as “substantially similar.”

The argument is that if the first of three drugs used in the procedure doesn’t take effect properly, the other two drugs will cause pain but the paralyzed prisoner won’t be able to express discomfort. The first drug administered sedates the prisoner, the second paralyzes and the last kills.

The inmates say Mississippi doesn’t use monitors so there’s no way of knowing that the lethal drugs won’t be administered until after the prisoner is completely under the effects of anesthesia. The insertion of the intravenous needle could also be a painful because the execution staff in Mississippi is not properly trained, the inmates claim.

State officials dismiss the allegations, saying in court papers that the staff “is a highly trained team of paramedics” and that a state pathologist is on hand.

The inmates in the lawsuit are Alan Dale Walker, Paul Everett Woodward, Gerald James Holland and Bishop. Bishop is the only one with a scheduled execution date.

Bishop was sentenced to die in 2000 for his role in the claw hammer beating death of Marcus James Gentry. Bishop admitted participating in the fatal attack, but Bishop’s attorneys say an accomplice, Jessie Johnson, killed Gentry. Johnson was tried separately and is serving a life sentence.