Ark. court hears arguments in death penalty case

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Lawyers for several Arkansas death row inmates argued Thursday that the state’s lethal injection law ought to grant condemned prisoners the same protections extended to animals in a euthanasia law.

“If the General Assembly would make the same commitment to my clients that it has made to animals, we wouldn’t be here today,” Josh Lee told the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Lee’s comments come after death row inmate Jack Harold Jones filed a lawsuit in 2010, challenging the Department of Correction Director Ray Hobbs’ power to choose which drugs go into the three-drug mixture that is used to execute inmates. Nine other death row inmates have since joined the lawsuit, which is now before the state’s highest court.

In oral arguments Thursday, Lee said there needs to be some sort of protection that ensures condemned prisoners will have a quick and painless death.

Joseph Cordi, an attorney for the state, argued that the laws about cruel and unusual punishment already protect death row inmates.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the animal euthanasia statute, but of course animals are not protected by” the Eighth Amendment, Cordi said.

That law on animal euthanasia says animals have to be killed humanely and by a method that “causes painless loss of consciousness and subsequent death.”

Arkansas doesn’t have any pending executions, in part because this lawsuit hasn’t been resolved. The state last executed someone in 2005.

Lawyers for Jones and the other death row inmates have argued that, in 2009, the state Legislature gave Hobbs an improper level of power by giving him the authority to pick the drugs. The lawyers said an earlier version of the state’s execution law had more safeguards.

On Thursday, Lee asked the high court to strike down the amended state execution law, which would force the state to either revert to the older version or have the General Assembly write a new one.

The high court didn’t immediately weigh in on the matter, but could issue an opinion in the case in the next few weeks.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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