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Death Row Inmate Who Wants Firing Squad Over Lethal Injection Refused Request

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Death Row Inmate Who Wants Firing Squad Over Lethal Injection Refused Request

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a death row inmate who has requested to be executed by firing squad.

Ernest Johnson was convicted of killing three shop workers during a robbery in Missouri, in 1994.

Credit: Missouri Department of Corrections
Credit: Missouri Department of Corrections

But Johnson has said that the lethal injection drug currently in use - pentobarbital - could cause him to have painful seizures, because of a benign tumour he has on his brain.

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However, his appeal was turned down by the court, which cited procedural issues as the reason why.

He first asked to be executed with nitrogen gas, with the Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit agreeing to his request.

But in a separate case in 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that a state could refuse to use nitrogen as there wasn't a 'track record of successful use'.

Stock image of a Texas execution chamber. Credit: PA
Stock image of a Texas execution chamber. Credit: PA
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Justice Sonia Sotomayor disagreed though, stating that it was unfair of the court to decline the request without allowing an appeal. She, and two other justices - Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan - disagreed with the decision.

In dissent of the court, she wrote: "Think about what the Eighth Circuit has done in the interest of moving things along more quickly.

"Johnson has plausibly pleaded that, if he is executed using pentobarbital, he will experience pain akin to torture. Those factual allegations must be accepted as true at this stage of the litigation."

She continued: "Yet despite the risk of severe pain rising to the level of cruel and unusual punishment, the Eighth Circuit has ensured that no court will ever review the evidence in support of Johnson's Eighth Amendment claim."

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Justice Sotomayor, quoting from her dissent in the 2019 case: "There are higher values than ensuring that executions run on time.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, pictured, said the punishment would be 'cruel' should it go ahead as planned. Credit: PA
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, pictured, said the punishment would be 'cruel' should it go ahead as planned. Credit: PA

"The Eighth Amendment sets forth one: We should not countenance the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment simply for the sake of expediency. That is what the Eighth Circuit's decision has done. Because this court chooses to stand idly by, I respectfully dissent."

Missouri has used the death penalty since 1810, having carried out 285 executions between 1810 and 1965. Lethal gas was used from 1937 to 1987.

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The state has also come under controversy around its death penalty conduct.

A 2015 study by a professor from the University of North Carolina, found there were racial disparities in the death penalty, noting that cases that involved white victims were seven times more likely to result in execution than those that involved black victims.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: US News, crime

Amelia Ward
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