The Missouri Supreme Court has postponed the executions of six inmates who were next in line to die after all 21 prisoners on death row filed a lawsuit challenging the state's lethal injection protocol.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
, the court said it would be "premature" to allow the state to schedule the next six executions with the lawsuit pending in federal court.
The newspaper said the inmates intend to argue in their case that a new, single drug to be used in Missouri executions amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because it forces inmates "to spend their final moments screaming in pain."
The lawsuit marks the latest challenge in what the Post-Dispatch called "the state's long troubled injection protocol." At issue is a plan by Missouri prison officials to replace its current three-drug injection procedure with the anesthetic propofol, the same drug that killed pop star Michael Jackson.
Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, said the new execution protocol is being used by opponents to get the courts to at least delay, if not abolish the state's death penalty.
But Rick Sindel, an attorney representing four death row inmates in the case, said the state's own experts have already admitted that propofol can cause "excruciating pain."
At the moment, no other states use propofol in executions, and the company that manufacturers the drug says its considering steps to prevent it from being used for anything other than medical purposes.
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