On July 28, 2005, Michael Anthony Taylor, a death-sentenced inmate of the Potosi Correctional Center in Washington County, Missouri, filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Missouri Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. He claimed that there was a 43% chance that the defendants' planned lethal injection procedure would torture him and cause him unnecessary pain. He argued that this violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. He also argued that the infliction of the death penalty, and specifically the use of a form of execution more painful than necessary to bring about the death involved, violated the Thirteenth Amendment because it was a relict, vestige, and badge of slavery. Specifically, he was concerned that that the use of the femoral vein for the administration of the lethal injection would require a painful "cut-down" procedure, and that the anesthetic used (thiopental) would wear off too soon, allowing him to be conscious during the administration of potassium chloride, which causes a painful burning sensation throughout the body. In addition, the plaintiff argued that the Missouri physicians who were involved in administering the lethal injections were violating their ethical obligations.
The defendants asked the court to dismiss the case, claiming that the plaintiff had to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing the case in District Court. On December 28, 2005, the District Court (Judge Scott O. Wright) denied their request, finding that the plaintiff did not have to exhaust his administrative remedies because if the defendants had wanted to change the method of execution due to the pain it inflicted, they would have already done so.
On January 18, 2006, the plaintiff asked the District Court to order the defendants not to execute him until the court had held a hearing and decided how to resolve the issues in the case. The next day, the District Court (Judge Wright) granted his request and ordered the defendants not to execute the plaintiff until the court told them that they could do so. The defendants appealed. On January 29, 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (Judges William J. Riley, Clarence Arlen Beam, and David Rasmussen Hansen) vacated the stay and ordered the District Court to hold a hearing before noon on February 1, 2006. They also held that the execution should be stayed until midnight on February 3, 2006.
According to the Eighth Circuit's order, the District Court held a hearing to decide the merits of the case on January 31, 2006. After the hearing, Court (Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr.) found that neither the chemicals used by the State of Missouri for lethal injection nor the procedure employed to administer these injections constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The Court reasoned that while the plaintiff suggested a different approach to lethal injection, he did not prove that the current method used by Missouri violated the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The Court also said that it was not persuaded that the use of the femoral vein for the administration of the lethal injection violated applicable standards of the Eighth Amendment, and it did not believe that the Missouri physicians who were involved in administering the lethal injections were violating their ethical obligations. Finally, the Court said that the lethal injection procedure did not violate the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition of slavery. The plaintiff appealed.
On April 27, 2006, the Eighth Circuit (Judges Riley, Beam, and Hansen) issued a per curiam opinion vacating the District Court's decision and remanding the case so that the lower court could hold a more thorough hearing and expand the record. The Eighth Circuit decided to do this because they felt that the time constraints that they had imposed on the lower court had been unreasonable, and they wished to allow the parties more time to present their cases. Taylor v. Crawford, 445 F.3d 1095 (8th Cir. 2006).
After holding a more extensive hearing, the District Court ruled on June 26, 2006, amended its earlier decision, ordering the defendants to prepare a written protocol for lethal injections that included the following changes: 1) a board certified anesthesiologist must be responsible for the mixing and administering of all drugs used during the lethal injection, 2) at least 5 grams of thiopental must be administered and the anesthesiologist must certify that the thiopental has rendered the plaintiff unconscious, 3) the state must purchase any equipment necessary to allow the anesthesiologist to monitor the depth of the anesthetic, in order to insure that the plaintiff will not feel any pain, 4) the state must have a contingency plan in place in case problems develop during the execution procedure, 5) an auditing process must be in place to ensure that all individuals involved in the lethal injection process are correctly following the protocol, and 6) after the Court approves the lethal injection protocol, it must not be changed without the prior approval of the Court. The District Court then sent this ruling up to the Eighth Circuit for their consideration and approval. Taylor v. Crawford, 2006 WL 1779035 (W.D.Mo. June 26, 2006).
On July 24, 2006, the defendants filed a revised protocol for use in carrying out Taylor's death sentence in the District Court, and the Eighth Circuit remanded their jurisdiction back to the lower court so that the new protocol could be considered. On September 12, 2006, the District Court (Judge Gaitan) rejected the defendants' revised protocol, saying that even though it was an improvement, it was not enough to meet the standards of the Constitution because it lacked a provision for purchase of equipment that allows monitoring of anesthetic depth. The Court ordered the defendants to submit a revised protocol to the Court by October 27, 2006.
The defendants asked the District Court to reconsider their rejection of the revised protocol, and on October 16, 2006, the District Court (Judge Gaitan) refused to reconsider the decision. The defendants appealed that refusal, and on June 4, 2007, the Eighth Circuit reversed the District Court's decision, holding that the defendants' proposed revisions of the protocol were sufficient to get rid of any Constitutional problems. They also vacated the District Court's injunction that had forbidden the defendants from executing the plaintiff. The plaintiff asked the Eighth Circuit to rehear the case en banc, and on August 8, 2007, the Eighth Circuit declined to do so. The plaintiff filed a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.Kristen Sagar - 10/02/2008