LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In a long-awaited order, A Kentucky judge on Wednesday directed the state to consider changing how it executes prisoners by lethal injection, saying it should look into using one drug instead of three.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd wrote that the state's three-drug method may no longer be necessary now that other states have successfully used a single drug to execute condemned inmates.
The ruling comes 20 months after Shepherd halted all executions in Kentucky after inmates challenged whether the state's rules for carrying out a lethal injection prohibited the use of a single drug and if there were adequate safeguards against executing a mentally ill inmate.
Shepherd's order gives Kentucky 90 days to consider the changes. If the state sticks with a three-drug method, Shepherd wrote, the challenge by the inmates will be allowed to go to trial.
Shepherd cited the language in the state's lethal injection statute allowing the Department of Corrections to use "a substance or combination of substances" in executing an inmate.
"The disjunctive language of this statute makes clear that the use of a single drug was not only contemplated by the legislature, but also expressly permitted," Shepherd wrote.
But, Shepherd noted, the administrative regulations implementing the law allow only for a three-drug mixture to be used in executions.
Shepherd noted that, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's three-drug method in 2007, a one-drug method was untested at the time. That's no longer the case, Shepherd wrote, as at least five states, including Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota, Ohio and Washington have adopted a one-drug method.
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