Federal Judge Rules Alabama Lethal Injection Case Will Go to Trial


United States District Court Judge Keith Watkins denied the State of Alabama’s motion to dismiss without a trial the legal claims raised by Alabama death row inmates Willie McNair and James Callahan challenging Alabama’s lethal injection protocol. The federal judge ruled the case should go to trial and noted the benefit “in allowing – for the first time – an orderly consideration of the lethal injection protocol.”

Judge Watkins said in his November 16 order that the trial could have been held in October but had to be postponed because the State made last-minute changes to its protocol. According to the order, the issues at trial will be whether the monitoring of the inmate and the drug delivery system is sufficient, whether the three-drug protocol is constitutional in light of other alternatives, and whether constitutional considerations require better screening, training, and credentialing of the members of the execution team.

Earlier this year, the State executed three inmates – Aaron Jones, Darryl Grayson, and Luther Williams – even though all three of them had filed similar legal challenges to the State’s method of execution.

In September, the United States Supreme Court decided to review the constitutionality of lethal injection in the case of Baze v. Rees. Since then, no inmate in the country who filed a lethal injection challenge has been executed.

Despite what appears to be a nationwide halt on executions until Baze is decided, last month the State unsuccessfully attempted to execute Danny Siebert even though he is dying of terminal cancer.

Even after a federal court stayed Mr. Siebert’s execution, the State scheduled the execution of Tommy Arthur for December 6, 2007, and of James Callahan for January 31, 2008. The setting of these executions was criticized by newspapers across the state. Lawyers for Mr. Arthur and Mr. Callahan have asked that the execution dates be postponed until the constitutionality of the State’s method of execution is resolved. UPDATE: Danny Siebert died on April 22, 2008, from advanced terminal cancer.