The questions raised in a Kentucky case that is headed to the Supreme Court closely parallel the issues laid out in a legal challenge filed by a Maryland death row inmate, whose appeals prompted the state's indefinite halt to executions.
Attorneys for convicted killer Vernon L. Evans Jr., as well as local death penalty opponents, said yesterday that they will be closely watching as the high court weighs for the first time the constitutional questions surrounding lethal injection cases.
"The issues are very similar," said A. Stephen Hut Jr., who is leading Evans' legal team in a federal case that challenges Maryland's lethal injection procedures. "And the ultimate question - which asks whether the three-drug combination threatens a violation of cruel and unusual punishment when there are alternatives and readily available ways to accomplish lethal injection - is really similar."
Attorneys for Evans contend that Maryland's execution protocol violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and have asked a federal judge to require the involvement of doctors or highly trained nurses in state executions. Lawyers representing the state countered that executions are not medical procedures and should not be held to the same standards as the practice of medicine.
U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg put the case on hold when Maryland's highest court ordered a halt to executions in the state. The Court of Appeals ruled in December that the state's procedures for putting an inmate to death were developed improperly - that is, without the public comment and legislative oversight required for state regulations.
Efforts to repeal Maryland's death penalty statute failed in March when a state Senate committee vote ended in a tie.
Gov. Martin O'Malley - a death penalty opponent - has held off directing prisons officials to draft new regulations on lethal injection.
"He wants the legislature to have another opportunity to debate this issue during the general session," said Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley spokesman.
Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, said it was inevitable that the Supreme Court would face the issue of lethal injection.
Evans, 57, was sentenced to death 15 years ago in the 1983 contract killings of David Scott Piechowicz and his sister-in-law, Susan Kennedy, at the Pikesville motel where they both worked.
Sun reporter Jennifer Skalka contributed to this article.