For the first time in the modern death penalty era, an Alabama governor has granted a reprieve shortly before an Alabama prisoner was scheduled to be executed. Thomas Arthur’s execution, scheduled for September 27, 2007, was suspended over concerns about Alabama’s lethal injection procedures.
Thomas Arthur was scheduled to be executed at 6:00 p.m. on September 27, 2007. On that date, Governor Bob Riley granted a reprieve of 45 days to allow the Alabama Department of Corrections to make modifications to its lethal injection protocol. The governor expressed his desire that the Attorney General will move for, and the Alabama Supreme Court will promptly set, a new execution date when the 45-day period expires.
Alabama’s lethal injection protocol, which is similar to that used in other states, raises concerns that inmates are not fully unconscious when given drugs to stop the heart and lungs, which could result in torturous pain. The New York Times reported that Jeff Emerson, a spokesman for Governor Riley, said that Alabama officials recognized the need to change Alabama’s lethal injection procedure after a federal judge ruled last week that similar procedures used in Tennessee could “result in a terrifying, excruciating death.”
Two other Alabama inmates, Willie McNair and James Callahan, have filed a challenge to the state’s lethal injection protocol in federal district court. A trial on Alabama’s execution procedures is tentatively scheduled to begin in that combined case on November 26, 2007.