Lawyers for a condemned Alabama inmate urged the state to hold off on his execution date, arguing that the state’s last lethal injection went “horribly wrong.” The state is seeking an execution date for Robert Melson, who was convicted of killing three fast food employees during a 1995 robbery of a Popeye’s restaurant in Gadsden. In a filing with the Alabama Supreme Court, Melson’s attorneys argued that the state’s last execution went wrong after the inmate coughed for the first 13 minutes of the procedure and appeared to move after a consciousness check.
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“This Court should not set any execution dates until the question of the constitutionality of Alabama’s method of execution is resolved, particularly after Ronald Smith’s execution was badly botched,” lawyers for Melson wrote. During a lethal injection in December, inmate Ronald Bert Smith heaved and coughed repeatedly and briefly moved his hands after two consciousness checks. Lawyers for Smith say the movements showed he was never fully anesthetised during the procedure.
Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said in December that there was no evidence that the execution went awry or that there was suffering. Lawyers with the Alabama’s attorney general’s office, in asking for an execution date, argued last month that the federal courts have upheld Alabama’s lethal injection process as constitutional. Dunn said in December that the state properly followed that protocol.
Alabama uses the sedative midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection combination. Inmates have argued in a court case that the drug was an unreliable sedative and could cause them to feel pain, citing its use in problematic executions.
Melson last year joined litigation challenging the state’s lethal injection process as unconstitutional. The state argued that similar claims have already been rejected.