The Alabama Supreme Court on October 30, 2007, set two new execution dates despite what appears to be a nationwide halt on executions pending the United States Supreme Court’s decision on whether lethal injection is unconstitutional. The state supreme court re-scheduled the execution of Tommy Arthur for December 6, 2007, and scheduled James Callahan’s execution for January 31, 2008.
The court’s action is surprising in light of the fact that executions across the country and in Alabama have been stayed since the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in Baze v. Rees to address the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol like the one used in Alabama and in most death penalty states. The U.S. Supreme Court gave its strongest indication yet that executions should not proceed until it decides Bazewhen it stopped a Mississippi execution Tuesday night even though the inmate waited until just three days before his execution to raise a lethal injection challenge.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in Baze, no inmate in the country who filed a lethal injection challenge has been executed.
Tommy Arthur previously was scheduled to be executed on September 27, 2007. That same day, Alabama Governor Bob Riley recognized the need to make changes in Alabama’s lethal injection protocol and issued a 45-day reprieve. (In Alabama, the state supreme court must set a new execution date after a stay or reprieve.) The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the execution of Danny Siebert that was scheduled for October 25. And James Callahan’s challenge to lethal injection is pending in federal district court.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office moved to set these two execution dates despite the recognition among prosecutors that executions should be put on hold until Baze is decided. In Texas, for example, Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal said it made little sense to pursue execution dates when those who already have them are receiving stays. “Since we don’t know when the Supreme Court will rule, we thought we’d wait until they decided and then set them all,” Rosenthal said.
Alabama’s setting of these execution dates has been condemned by newspapers across the state.