Federal Judge upholds Georgia’s lethal injection method

A federal judge in Atlanta on Wednesday rejected arguments that Georgia’s method of execution by lethal injection is unconstitutional.

Ruling from the bench after 90 minutes of arguments, U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Martin found Georgia’s procedures similar enough to Kentucky’s, which were upheld last month by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Martin denied relief to condemned killer Jack Alderman, convicted of killing his wife outside of Savannah in 1974. Her ruling also clears the way for Tuesday’s planned execution of William Lynd for killing his girlfriend in Berrien County in 1988.

Alderman’s lawyers, from the New York law firm Clifford Chance and Atlanta’s King & Spalding, fiercely litigated the challenge, taking testimony from state prison officials and experts. They contend Georgia’s procedures pose an unacceptably high risk of severe pain and run afoul of the Constitution’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

Kentucky, Georgia uses a three-drug cocktail: the sedative sodium pentothal followed by pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer that stops breathing, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.

But Michael Siem, one of Alderman’s lawyers, said Georgia has none of the safeguards that the U.S. Supreme Court cited when upholding Kentucky’s procedures.

In Kentucky, Siem said, a prison official confirms that the sodium pentothal has rendered the inmate unconscious before the next drugs are injected. There is required training for those who execute inmates in Kentucky, while Georgia’s protocol does not call for it, he said.

But Eddie Snelling, a lawyer from the state attorney general’s office, told Martin that lethal injection here is administered by trained officials and overseen by two licensed nurses with decades of experience. One nurse looks for indicators to make sure the inmate is unconscious before the other drugs are administered and two physicians stand by to give advice, Snelling said.

The team that administers lethal injections conducts at least two practice sessions a year, Snelling said. If an execution is scheduled, the team undergoes three or four days of practice sessions before the execution.