Alabama death row inmate David Larry Nelson will take his unusual case back to a federal judge in Montgomery, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court. He will argue that if his collapsed veins force prison officials to cut him open, the cutting – but not the lethal injection – amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
The Birmingham News says that the case is being watched nationally because it could open more avenues for condemned inmates to fight their sentences and eventually could determine whether certain execution methods are unconstitutionally cruel.
A lawyer for Alabama argued in March that giving Nelson another crack at delaying his death would contradict Congress’ intent to limit appeals and could lead to a rush of last-minute pleas. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that the state is “incorrect that a reversal here would open the floodgates.”
Bryan Stevenson, Nelson’s attorney and director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, said the decision affirmed that “people don’t lose their basic fundamental right to be treated in a decent and humane manner.”
Nelson, who is guilty of three murders, has said he will no longer fight his death sentence. “But we’re not in a position to concede that just because he has collapsed veins, you can do anything you choose,” Stevenson said. “We hold on to the possibility of challenging the execution if it is going to be done in an inhumane or cruel manner.”