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Alabama Executions Likely to Resume Quickly

By Associated Press

Mobile AL – The Supreme Court's ruling Wednesday that upheld Kentucky's use of lethal injection removed a legal logjam that has delayed executions in Alabama for months.

"It should mean that executions will resume very quickly," Assistant Alabama Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said.

But a death penalty opponent said the ruling wasn't definitive and further legal challenges likely will ensue.

Crenshaw, the state's capital punishment prosecutor, said the ruling could affect Supreme Court stays granted for two inmates Tommy Arthur and James Harvey Callahan and lethal injection challenges by several others, including Herbert Williams Jr., who only last week joined the list of Alabama inmates with a lethal injection challenge.

In January, Callahan won a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court a little more than an hour before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection at Holman Prison. Arthur also was within hours of execution in September when it was stayed by Gov. Bob Riley after a change was made in the lethal injection protocol.

Currently, Alabama has no pending execution dates set by the state Supreme Court. But the state, with slightly more than 200 inmates on death row, has executed 38 since executions resumed in the state in 1983 after a national hiatus when the death penalty underwent legal scrutiny. Three were executed in Alabama last year.

"Alabama's execution protocol is essentially the same as Kentucky and every other state that uses lethal injection," Crenshaw said.

The justices, by a 7-2 vote, turned back a constitutional challenge to the procedures in place in Kentucky, which uses three drugs to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates. Similar methods are used by roughly three dozen states.

Talitha Powers Bailey, the director of the Capital Defense Clinic at the University of Alabama School of Law, which assists attorneys in death penalty cases, said the high court's ruling wasn't "clear cut" and left open the option of investigating other modes of execution.

"It's an invitation to future litigation," she said. "The stakes are entirely too high."

She said the high court's main opinion seems to create a "standard framework by which lower courts can consider a particular method of execution."

If an alternate procedure comes up in the future, then it could be challenged, she said.

In a statement, Attorney General Troy King said the high court ruling "reaffirmed a constitutional principle long understood by Alabamians: Those who willfully and cruelly take a human life can and must face the only punishment equal to their crime."

He described it as "a substantial victory for the champions of justice, and it strikes a blow to those who stand in justice's way."

Bailey said Wednesday's ruling wasn't unexpected. She said a benefit of the Kentucky challenge was that it created a six-month pause in executions for states to re-examine their death penalty procedures.

While awaiting the Kentucky ruling, Alabama adjusted its execution protocol slightly to include a consciousness test for the inmate as the drugs are administered.

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