Court approves use of execution drug
BY ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ World Correspondent
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
12/14/10 at 4:57 PM
DENVER — An appeals court Tuesday allowed Oklahoma to proceed with executions, including one on Thursday, using a new lethal injection drug.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a death-row inmate’s claim that the drug, pentobarbital, could cause cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The Denver-based court concluded 3-0 that the amount of pentobarbital prison authorities plan to inject as the first of three execution drugs would by itself “likely be lethal in most, if not all, instances.”
The 10-page decision clears the way for the execution of John David Duty at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, and of Jeffrey Matthews on Jan. 11.
Duty, 58, strangled his cellmate in 2001 while in prison for first-degree rape and two other crimes.
Matthews, 38, was convicted of killing his great-uncle, Otis Earl Short, 77, during a 1994 home invasion robbery in Rosedale.
Prison authorities said a few months ago they would be using pentobarbital for the first time because there is a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, which previously was the first of three drugs used for executions.
Matthews, citing testimony of a medical doctor who is a professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, contended using pentobarbital as an anesthetic might not work to prevent “severe, excruciating pain” from the subsequent drugs.
The appellate judges based their decision in large part on the testimony of the state’s witness, a medical doctor who is a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Massachusetts, who disputed the testimony of Matthews’ witness.
The judges said the state’s witness “has substantially more clinical experience with the use of pentobarbital” than does Matthews’ witness.