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US judge halts executions hours before lethal injection

Judge issues temporary halt on grounds Trump administration's execution method likely constitutes cruel, unusual punishment

Michael Hernandez  | 13.07.2020 - Update : 13.07.2020
US judge halts executions hours before lethal injection


A federal judge on Monday ordered a delay to federal executions with just hours to go before an Indiana inmate was scheduled to die via lethal injection.

The inmate, Daniel Lewis Lee, was to be the first prisoner executed by the federal government in 17 years. Lee was convicted on charges related to the 1996 murder of three people, including an eight-year-old child.

The Trump administration, which has been seeking to resume federal executions, quickly moved to appeal Judge Tanya Chutkan's ruling.

Chutkan ordered Lee's and three other individual's executions be delayed while their legal challenges to a new lethal injection protocol crafted by the administration in 2019 play out.

In issuing her decision, Chutkan said the single-drug protocol was likely to run afoul of the US Constitution's Eight Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

"The scientific evidence before the court overwhelmingly indicates that the 2019 Protocol is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions," she wrote.

The drug the Trump administration is seeking to use is pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, that could have caused pulmonary edema, or sensations of drowning and suffocating prior to death.

"The court finds that the public interest is served by preliminarily enjoining Plaintiffs’ executions because it will allow judicial review of whether the United States Government’s planned execution protocol complies with the Eighth Amendment, and to ensure that it does so in the future," Chutkan wrote.

Three other inmates in federal custody were scheduled to be executed within weeks, including Wesley Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Keith Nelson. They were to be executed July 15, July 17, and Aug. 28.

Those executions have also been put on hold as a result of Chutkan's order.

The case is likely to be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

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