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Eye On Boise

Death Row inmates challenge Idaho’s execution procedures

Four Death Row inmates have filed a federal lawsuit over Idaho's new execution procedures, asking a judge to stop all executions until problems in the procedures are addressed. The move comes as Idaho's next execution nears; Richard Leavitt, an eastern Idaho murderer convicted in 1984, is nearing the end of his appeals. In November, Idaho carried out its first execution in 17 years, executing triple murderer Paul Rhoades by lethal injection; it was the state's first execution since 1994 and only its second since 1957.

The four inmates, who include Leavitt along with Thomas Creech, James Hairston and Gene Stuart, contend the new procedures adopted earlier this year give too much power to prison officials, create a risk of severe pain and would allow unqualified workers to carry out medical procedures. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

4 inmates challenge Idaho's new execution protocol
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Four inmates on Idaho's death row are suing the state, contending Idaho's new execution procedures give too much power to prison officials, create a risk of severe pain and would allow unqualified workers to carry out medical procedures. The lawsuit, filed in Boise's U.S. District Court late last week, asks a judge to stop all executions until the problems are fixed.

The lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Correction's Director Brent Reinke, Operations Division Chief Kevin Kempf and other department officials comes as the men prepare for the possibility of an execution sometime in late spring or early summer. Richard Leavitt, convicted of the brutal 1984 stabbing death of Danette Jean Elg in Blackfoot, is waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will consider his case. If the high court refuses, Leavitt could be the next inmate to enter the lethal injection chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution.

Leavitt is joined in the lawsuit by fellow condemned inmates Thomas Creech, James Hairston and Gene Stuart. All four men are represented by the Federal Public Defender's office.

In the 37-page lawsuit, the inmates take issue with Idaho's newest version of the execution policy, adopted by the department earlier this year.

The new policy allows the state to use either a three-drug mixture for lethal injections, or to opt to use just one drug. It also changed the name of the team that administers the lethal injection from "injection team" to "medical team" and limited the legal ramifications for health professionals involved with executions.

It also can be changed at any time, under the sole discretion of one of two IDOC officials, without any notice to death row inmates or their attorneys. If unforeseen developments occur during an execution, Director Brent Reinke or Idaho Maximum Security Institution Warden Randy Blades can determine how to respond without any constraints on their discretion.

That gives too much power to the IDOC officials, the inmates contend, and violates the inmates' right to due process.

"Executing any plaintiff without notice of the procedures to be used denies each plaintiff the right to a reasonable opportunity to review and to be heard, in violation of the right to due process," attorney Oliver Loewy wrote on behalf of inmates in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also takes issue with the way Idaho officials might obtain the drugs used in lethal injection execution, with the inmates contending that the drugs would likely be illegally obtained or adulterated in some way.

The new protocol doesn't require that members of the medical team have current professional experience inserting or maintaining IVs on a regular basis, the inmates claim, nor does it require that they have any experience or training in preparing chemicals for injection.

That creates the possibility of error, and extreme pain for the condemned, the inmates claim.

The state has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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