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Mississippi Execution Drugs

Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds the Right of Condemned Men and Women to Challenge Torturous Methods of Execution in State Court

The Mississippi Supreme Court has cleared the way for a Death Row prisoner to seek a state court order prohibiting a torturous method of execution.

In Crawford v. Fisher, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected the Mississippi attorney general’s attempt to block Charles Ray Crawford from filing a civil rights lawsuit in the state court system. Crawford’s lawsuit challenges the use of a compounded anesthetic that has not been tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The use of an ineffective anesthetic as the first drug in a three-drug execution series would result in Crawford being conscious throughout the execution and experiencing an extremely painful death by suffocation and cardiac arrest.

Attorneys from the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center’s New Orleans office originally filed Crawford’s lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson. Attorney General Hood, representing Commissioner of Corrections Marshall Fisher, objected that the case was improperly filed. In the chancery court hearing, the state’s attorneys suggested that it should have been filed in the state circuit court or in federal district court. But after the chancery judge transferred Crawford’s case to the circuit court, the state objected again, arguing that the case could not be filed in circuit court either. The circuit judge agreed with the attorney general and dismissed the case.

In today’s ruling, more than two years after the initial filing, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected the attorney general’s arguments and sent the case back to circuit court for further proceedings.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion affirms that the courts of Mississippi will follow federal constitutional and statutory law giving death-sentenced prisoners the right to challenge the use of drugs and injection procedures in state trial courts,” said MacArthur Justice Center Jim Craig, who represents Crawford along with MacArthur Justice Center attorney Emily Washington.

“Condemned men and women have the right to prevent the use of execution protocols that result in excruciating torture, including conscious suffocation, in their executions,” Craig said. “If the attorney general had answered our lawsuit in the spring of 2014, instead of playing this jurisdictional shell game, the lawsuit would be final by now. We look forward to the opportunity to prove Mr. Crawford’s claims in the state court.”

A copy of the decision is available HERE »

Temporary Injunction Stops Executions in Mississippi

U.S. Judge Henry T. Wingate has issued a preliminary injunction blocking Mississippi from carrying out executions.

The Court’s preliminary injunction order restrains the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) from executing prisoners with either pentobarbital or midazolam. In the Order, the court finds “that plaintiffs have shown a substantial likelihood in prevailing, at least, on their claim that Mississippi’s failure to use a drug which qualifies as an ‘ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug’ as required by Miss. Code Ann. §99-19-51 violates Mississippi statutory law and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The injunction will last through discovery until the case is finally decided by the Court. The Court then said it would set an expedited schedule for the case.

MDOC filed a notice of appeal of the District Court’s ruling before the written opinion issuing the injunction had been filed by the Court.

Jim Craig, Co-Director of the Roderick & Solange Justice Center at New Orleans, which represents two of the prisoners in the case, hailed the decision. “Neither compounded pentobarbital or midazolam are in the class of drugs specified by state law for use in executions,” Craig said. “There’s good reason for that. In other states, both compounded pentobarbital and midazolam have been used in botched executions, which tortured prisoners to death. Those states have changed their protocols to create safeguards against chemical torture.

“Although MDOC has never before used either compounded pentobarbital or midazolam, the Department refuses to adopt procedures and safeguards that could prevent such torture,” Craig said. “For the last year and a half, we have tried to require the MDOC and the Attorney General to defend their use of these lethal injection drugs in a court of law. We have also tried to obtain public records about the purchase and proposed use of these drugs.

“MDOC and the Attorney General have used every opportunity to evade public scrutiny,” Craig said. With this ruling, Judge Wingate has demonstrated the Federal Court’s commitment to a full, fair and transparent court hearing on these issues.”

PDF of order 08/025/15

Judge orders temporary halt to Mississippi executions, Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger

Judge delays execution of man who murdered Metairie-raised woman in Mississippi until death row inmate’s federal lawsuit is resolved, New Orleans Advocate

Judge orders temporary halt to Mississippi Executions, Associated Press

Updated - 08/26/15

Prisoners Seek Injunction to Block Use of Compounded Lethal Injection Drug in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. – Two Mississippi death-sentenced prisoners have asked a federal court to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) from using a compounded anesthetic as the first drug in its three-drug lethal injection series.

In a motion filed by lawyers from the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at New Orleans, Richard Jordan and Ricky Chase asked U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate to issue the injunction pending resolution of the lawsuit filed in April. The lawsuit challenges the continued use of a three-drug series in executions, the use of compounded pentobarbital as the first drug in the series, and the failure to use an “ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug” as required by Mississippi law. 

PDF of motion for preliminary injunction »

MacArthur Justice Center news release »

Updated 6/3/15

Lawsuit Challenges Mississippi’s Use of Compounded Drugs in Executions

The Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center has filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections challenging the use of compounded drugs in executions. The lawsuit also challenges the state’s continued use of a three-drug lethal injection protocol, given the known risks associated with such a protocol and the demonstrated success of a single-drug protocol to significantly reduce these risks.

PDF of news release »

PDF of Jordan v. Fisher »

Updated 04/18/15

Court Orders Mississippi Officials to Provide Information About Executions

A decision in a lawsuit filed by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has resulted in a court ordering the Mississippi state officials to release public information about executions.

A judge in the Chancery Court of Hinds County has ordered the Mississippi Department of Corrections to produce un-redacted documents related to lethal injection drugs that are or have been in the possession of the Department for use in executions. Chancellor Denise Sweet Owens also granted attorneys’ fees under the statutory provision for “wrongful denial of access to records.”

“Today Chancellor Owens issued a speedy and thorough opinion which vindicates the principle that these are the people’s records which cannot be kept secret,” said Jim Craig, Co-Director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans. “Despite unsworn statements to the contrary, the MDOC had no proof at all that the companies who sell lethal injection drugs to the Department have ever been subject to harassment or intimidation. More than ever, after the visible torture of several condemned prisoners in other states last year in botched executions, the origin, integrity, and composition of lethal injection drugs is a matter of serious public concern. We look forward to the Department’s swift obedience to the Court’s ruling.”

PDF of order and opinion »

Updated 03/06/15

Court Asked to Order Scandal-Plagued Mississippi Department of Corrections to Release Public Information About Executions

JACKSON, Miss. – The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has asked a state court to order the scandal-plagued Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to comply with the Mississippi Public Records Act and produce requested public records concerning the state’s procedure for carrying out Death Row executions.

In response to the MacArthur Justice Center’s request for records in a dozen categories, the MDOC provided 10 heavily-redacted pages of documents, did not disclose the identity of vendors supplying drugs used in lethal injections and did not provide any written explanation – as required by law – of what Public Records Act exemptions were used to black out information on the public documents. MDOC also did not explain whether its failure to provide other documents was because the records don’t exist or because access was denied.

PDF of news release »

PDF of complaint »

Group says MDOC violated public records act, Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger

Updated - 01/07/15