The Supreme Court today hears an appeal from an Alabama triple-murderer who says the state’s plan for opening his veins to inject him with lethal chemicals amounts to cruel and unusual punishment barred by the Constitution. USA Today reports that death row inmate David Larry Nelson, 59, says his veins are damaged from years of drug use. Allowing use of a local anesthetic to cut through 2 inches of flesh to find a vein would be unconstitutionally cruel, he says.
The issue is a technical one of whether Nelson may use a 133-year-old civil rights law to challenge the procedure. The case points to a new line of attack from anti-death-penalty movement: that the anesthetic used in lethal injections often fails to prevent horrible suffering.
Analysts say the underlying claim is that lethal injection, the preferred execution method in 37 of 38 states with the death penalty, is not so humane as it’s claimed to be. The Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-capital-punishment group, says Nelson is one of at least 15 death row inmates who have challenged the legality of the lethal-injection process in the past year.