Decision Indicates Most Lethal Injection Executions Could Be Halted

Wednesday, October 31st 2007, 7:15 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court's decision to halt an execution in Mississippi is the latest indication that most, if not all, executions by lethal injection will be halted until justices rule on a challenge to the procedure.

The last-minute reprieve Tuesday for Earl Wesley Berry was the third granted by the justices since they agreed late last month to decide a challenge to Kentucky's lethal injection procedures.

The decision brought an emotional response from about two dozen members of the victim's family, who called a news conference to express their outrage.

``Now you want to tell me that we got a fair shake today?'' said Charles Bounds, whose 56-year-old wife, Mary, was kidnapped from a church and killed by Berry in 1987.

``Please don't ever let that man out of prison, 'cause you'll have me, then. ... I'll kill him,'' he said.

Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia would have allowed the execution to go forward.

Berry was convicted in 1988. His confession was used against him during the trial.

The Supreme Court has allowed only one execution to go forward since agreeing to hear the Kentucky case, which it is likely to hear before its July recess. Michael Richard was executed in Texas on Sept. 25, the same day the court said it would hear a lethal injection challenge from two death row inmates in Kentucky.

State and lower federal courts have halted all other scheduled executions since then, putting the nation on a path toward the lowest annual number of executions in a decade.

Berry asked for a delay at least until the court issues its decision in the Kentucky case. He claimed the mixture of deadly chemicals Mississippi uses would cause unnecessary pain, constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

Kentucky's method of lethal injection executions is similar to procedures in three dozen states. The court will consider whether the mix of three drugs used to sedate and kill prisoners has the potential to cause pain severe enough to violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.