Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Texas has more inmates on death row than any other state. California holds that distinction; Texas ranks third. The article also misstated the date on which the Supreme Court declined to review the appeals of death row inmates. That decision was announced April 21, not April 16.

After Court Ruling, States to Proceed With Executions

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 23, 2008; Page A02

States began moving forward with plans for executions this week after the Supreme Court declined last Wednesday to review the appeals of death row inmates who had challenged lethal-injection methods in nearly a dozen states.

The court had issued orders staying several executions last year and earlier this year while it weighed whether Kentucky's lethal-injection procedure constituted cruel and unusual punishment. States had postponed at least 14 scheduled executions pending the high court's decision, creating a de facto moratorium on capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

In a 7 to 2 vote last week, the justices said the three-drug cocktail used by Kentucky, which is similar to the one employed by the federal government and 34 other states, does not carry so great a risk of pain that it violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

With three executions already scheduled for this summer, Virginia could be the first state to carry out the punishment after the resolution of the Kentucky case. The state has scheduled a May 27 execution date for Kevin Green, who killed a couple in Brunswick County; June 10 for Percy L. Walton, who killed three neighbors in Danville; and July 24 for Edward Nathaniel Bell, who shot a police officer in Winchester.

"I actually expect to see a spate of scheduled executions," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Dieter said that despite its approval of Kentucky's lethal-injection procedure, the Supreme Court left room for lawyers to contest other states' procedures. "That sets the stage for a state-by-state resolution of this conflict," he said.

Attorneys contesting lethal injections have focused on training and procedures as ways to challenge them.

In numerous cases before federal and state courts, attorneys have argued that people who deliver anesthesia do not know how to insert a needle properly into a vein. They have contended that lighting has been poor during some executions, limiting the ability to see mistakes. And they have argued that some technicians hired to conduct medical procedures are not qualified.

Opponents said court arguments over these subjects are likely to continue.

Ty Alper, associate director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley's law school, said the Supreme Court's ruling in the Kentucky case means nothing has changed: State officials will try to carry out executions and opponents will question their procedures.

"It's going to be like it was before," Alper said. "In some states, prison officials are going to be pushing for round-the-clock injections -- there are 40 or 50 in Texas. The open question will be whether those states can reach the standard that the court has set for lethal injection."

After the Supreme Court declined to step in yesterday, some state courts, governors and corrections boards vowed to press forward with their execution plans. Texas will attempt to reschedule the execution of Carlton Turner Jr., who killed his parents and hid their decomposing bodies.

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