March 2, 2010 in City

Washington changes execution method

Associated Press
 

OLYMPIA — Washington state has changed its method of execution from a three-drug cocktail to a one-drug system, according to paperwork filed Tuesday with the state Supreme Court.

The filing by state Attorney General Rob McKenna reveals that the state made the decision last Thursday. It wants the high court to dismiss portions of the appeal of death-row inmate Darold Stenson, arguing that a challenge of the drug protocol’s constitutionality is now moot.

The state Department of Corrections is in the process of rewriting the execution policy that will make Washington the second state in the nation to use the one-drug method.

Ohio switched in January after the botched execution of Romell Broom that was halted by Gov. Ted Strickland in September. Executioners unsuccessfully tried for hours to find a usable vein for injection, and Broom has appealed the state’s attempt to try again.

Ohio has executed three men under the new method.

Stenson, who shot his wife and business partner in Clallam County, is one of three death-row inmates suing Washington state, arguing that its preferred method of execution needed a major overhaul to satisfy constitutional bans on cruel punishment.

Also suing are Jonathan Gentry, who killed a 12-year-old girl in Kitsap County, and Cal Coburn Brown, who tortured and killed a Burien woman.

Last March, the state Supreme Court stayed the execution of Brown just hours before he was set to die. McKenna filed for a lift of that stay after a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled last July that the state’s lethal injection procedures were constitutional.

The stay will remain in place while the appeal process continues.

In prior filings, the state argued that Washington’s three-drug lethal injection system passed constitutional tests because it was substantially similar to a Kentucky system upheld in 2008 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before deciding to switch to the one-drug method, Washington, like roughly three dozen states, had performed lethal injections by administering successive doses of three separate drugs. The chemicals are intended to render a condemned prisoner unconscious, then paralyze the body, and, finally, stop the heart.

Washington death-row inmates may opt for hanging instead of lethal injection. The last hanging was of Charles Campbell in May 1994. The state’s last execution was the lethal injection death of James Elledge in 2001.

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