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Court Upholds Lethal Injections in Arkansas

(CN) - The 8th Circuit upheld lethal injections in Arkansas, the latest state to face a constitutional challenge over its three-drug method of capital punishment. Death-row inmates also lost their claim that the state's protocol unconstitutionally allows executioners to inject chemicals directly into an inmate's heart as a last-resort measure.

The St. Louis-based court said the three plaintiffs, all death-row inmates, failed to show that the Arkansas Department of Correction planned to use the extreme direct-injection method, known as "intracardiac infusion," in future executions.

The inmates had folded that argument into a more traditional challenge of the protocol used for most inmates, involving sequential injections of sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Sodium pentothal puts the inmate in a coma, while the pancuronium bromide paralyzes him and the potassium chloride stops his heart.

Inmates claimed that if the first drug doesn't work, a person could be conscious but paralyzed while the third drug was administered. This would cause the inmate to feel "an excruciating burning sensation as [the potassium chloride] travels through his veins to induce a heart attack," the 8th Circuit wrote in Taylor v. Crawford, a challenge to Missouri's lethal injection protocol.

The 8th Circuit said the written Arkansas protocol, like Missouri's, doesn't present a substantial risk of inflicting unnecessary pain.

Other circuit courts have upheld similar three-drug protocols in Delaware and Virginia, following the U.S. Supreme Court's lead in Baze v. Rees, which upheld the procedure in Kentucky.

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