The United States Supreme Court stayed the execution of 74-year-old Tommy Arthur tonight amid questions about the legality of Alabama’s method of execution and the constitutionality of its death penalty statute.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday refused to stay Mr. Arthur’s execution by a 2-1 vote. Mr. Arthur challenged Alabama’s lethal injection method of execution, arguing that it is unconstitutional because it fails to ensure that prisoners are sufficiently anaesthetized before they are injected with potassium chloride, which causes excruciating pain. The courts required Mr. Arthur to propose an alternative method of execution before they would evaluate whether Alabama’s lethal injection protocol is cruel and unusual punishment. Mr. Arthur proposed execution by firing squad, but the majority found that method is not permitted under state law and denied Mr. Arthur’s case.
In dissent, Judge Charles Wilson wrote that the majority created an impossible barrier for prisoners like Mr. Arthur to protect their constitutional rights: “Arthur proffered an execution alternative that was not lethal-injection-based, but the Majority’s interpretation of [Alabama law] thwarted that potentially safe and available alternative, leaving Arthur with no choice but to rely solely on lethal-injection-based alternatives. Arthur attempted to identify such an alternative but was stymied by the limited supply of lethal injection drugs and the secrecy surrounding such drugs. Checkmate.”
Mr. Arthur appealed to the Supreme Court, which ordered a stay of Mr. Arthur’s execution at Thursday night.