The Supreme Court revealed sharp death-penalty differences yesterday as justices weighed Kentucky’s lethal-injection method for executions, reports McClatchy Newspapers. Several justices suggested that further litigation should explicitly compare Kentucky’s death-penalty procedures with several alternatives. If questions are clues, death row inmates Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling could be in court for some time. “Wouldn’t it be better to get (this) one case litigated thoroughly?” asked Justice David Souter. “We want some kind of definitive position here.” Justice Stephen Breyer said he was “left at sea” because of key unanswered questions and noted that justices could “send (the case) back” for further study of execution methods. Neither Kentucky nor the Bush administration wants this to happen.
The death row inmates contend that they’re at risk of unbearable agony if the anesthetic, paralyzing agent and heart-stopping drugs are administered improperly. The court’s most conservative justices sounded skeptical, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining Justices Samuel Alito and, in particular, Antonin Scalia in raising doubts about the claims. The case, as often happens, could come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who didn’t tip his hand Monday. If the justices decide they need more information, a trial court would analyze the three-drug lethal injection procedure compared with proposed alternatives, including a single massive barbiturate overdose.