On January 23 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide Glossip v. Gross, a case on the constitutionality of new combinations of lethal drugs used in some states including Oklahoma.  On January 28 the court stayed the pending executions of three Oklahoma inmates who were challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol on the grounds that it might cause intense suffering.

The issue is whether a state should be using midazolam, a sedative, as its first chemical in an execution.  The sedative is intended to render the prisoner unconscious before the injection of a paralytic followed by a drug to stop the heart.

Midazolam was used in three botched executions last year occurring in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona.  In the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, the inmate appeared to moan and struggle after the drugs were administered for almost 45 minutes before he died.

Some states have switched to midazolam because companies that make the more traditional barbiturates used in executions have refused to provide them for executions.  The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the lethal injection case in April and likely make a decision in June.

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