Miss. lethal-injection lawsuit not filed in time

Published 12:34 am Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Three Mississippi death row inmates waited too long to file a lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal-injection method, a federal appeals panel said Monday in upholding a district judge’s decision to dismiss the action.

The three judges from 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans did not address the substance of the inmates’ arguments that Mississippi’s current procedure causes unnecessary pain. The lawsuit also claimed employees administering the drugs are not properly trained.

U.S. District Judge Allen Pepper dismissed the lawsuit in July. Pepper said the inmates — Alan Dale Walker, Paul Everett Woodward and Gerald James Holland — should have filed the lawsuit years earlier.

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The inmates’ attorney, Jim Craig, said he was disappointed with the ruling.

“The 5th Circuit had not previously written on this issue. We argued that there was no such statute of limitations when the harm had not yet happened … when the harm was to happen in the future,” he said.

Craig said a decision would likely be made after Thanksgiving on whether to ask the full 5th Circuit to hear the case or file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorney General Jim Hood said Monday the 5th Circuit’s ruling was expected.

“The statute of limitations had run on these cases. This was simply an attempt by these inmates to slow down the legal process surrounding their executions,” Hood said in a statement.

Pepper — and the 5th Circuit panel — said the three-year statute of limitations clock on filing lawsuits challenging the execution method begins ticking on the date direct review of a plaintiff’s conviction and sentence is complete.

For Walker the clock would have started Dec. 2, 1996; for Woodward, March 29, 1999; and for Holland, Oct. 5, 1998, according to the court.

The three filed the challenge in 2007, well after the deadline, the 5th Circuit panel said. The panel said the inmates were aware that they were subject to execution by lethal injection from the moment their convictions became final.

No execution date has been set for any of the three. The attorney general’s office has said all three have appeals pending in various federal courts.

Walker was sentenced to death for the 1990 rape and murder of 19-year-old Konya Edwards of Long Beach. Woodward was convicted in Perry County in the July 23, 1986, murder, kidnapping, robbery and rape of volunteer Youth Court worker Rhonda Crane.

Holland in 1987 beat, suffocated and stabbed to death 15-year-old Krystal D. King.

Two other inmates initially involved in the lawsuit were executed earlier this year.