Death Penalty

Divided Supreme Court Vacates Execution Stay; Challenge Focused on Drug Shortage

The U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay of execution on Tuesday in the case of a death-row inmate who challenged the foreign origin of a lethal injection drug.

Jeffrey Landrigan was put to death Tuesday evening after the Supreme Court lifted the stay in a 5-4 order that reversed the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to CNN and the Arizona Republic. The 9th Circuit Court and a lower court judge had blocked the execution because one of the lethal injection drugs, sodium thiopental, was acquired from England. The drug, which is used to induce unconsciousness, is scarce in the United States.

“There is no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe,” the Supreme Court order (PDF) says. “The district court granted the restraining order because it was left to speculate as to the risk of harm. … But speculation cannot substitute for evidence.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented from the order lifting the stay.

Asked for any last words, Landrigan thanked his friends and family for attending the execution, and concluded with a University of Oklahoma cheer, “Boomer Sooner.” He had been on death row for 20 years.

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