Sotomayor Blasts Secrecy Around Execution Drugs

(CN) – Echoing her concerns from past capital cases, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor slammed her colleagues Monday for rejecting the appeal of a Tennessee inmate set to be executed next year.   

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.(Associated Press)

Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman was convicted in 1987 of first-degree murder for stabbing a drug dealer to death in Nashville.  

After losing appeals based on claims of ineffective counsel and prosecutorial misconduct, Abdur’Rahman alleged cumulative error affecting his sentencing and improper jury instructions about accomplice testimony.

The Sixth Circuit rejected his appeal in 2015. His execution is scheduled for April 9, 2020.   

Last October, the Supreme Court cleared the way for Tennessee to execute double murderer Edmund Zagorski by electric chair because he argued the state’s lethal injection protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Sotomayor dissented in that case, saying she takes issue with the “perverse requirement that inmates offer alternative methods for their own executions.”

Tennessee is one of many states that has struggled in recent years to find alternative drugs for its execution protocol in the wake of pharmaceutical shortages driven by protests against the death penalty.

The barbiturate pentobarbital is widely regarded as a humane method of execution for its ability to render the subject fully insensate, but Sotomayor noted that Tennessee “was noncommittal about pentobarbital’s availability” after scheduling Zagorski’s execution last year.

The Supreme Court similarly declined Monday to take up Abdur’Rahman’s case, drawing a single-page dissent from Sotomayor.

“Today, the court again ignores the further injustice of state secrecy laws denying death-row prisoners access to potentially crucial information for meeting [the alternative-method] require­ment,” she wrote. “Because I continue to believe that the alternative-method requirement is fundamentally wrong—and particularly so when compounded by secrecy laws like Tennessee’s—I dissent.”

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