Death row prisoner treated as 'guinea pig,' Sotomayor dissent says
Justice Sonia Sotomayor has called the majority’s refusal to stay a man’s execution “another troubling example of this court stymying the development of Eighth Amendment law by pushing forward executions without complete information.” Image from Shutterstock.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor complained in a dissent early Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court should not allow Alabama to treat a death row inmate as a “guinea pig” to test its lethal injection process.
Barber had sought execution by nitrogen hypoxia and alleged that execution by lethal injection violated his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.
Early news reports did not indicate problems with Barber’s execution, according to the New York Times. The commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections said executioners made three attempts to set the intravenous lines and succeeded in six minutes.
Sotomayor’s dissent was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey had paused executions in Alabama for a review of the state’s lethal injection process after what one report described as “the longest botched lethal-injection execution in U.S. history.” The state later concluded that there were no deficiencies in its protocols, Sotomayor said.
“Just last year in Alabama, in three consecutive executions by lethal injection, prison officials spent multiple hours digging for prisoners’ veins in an attempt to set IV lines,” Sotomayor wrote. “Two of the men survived and reported experiencing extreme pain, including, in one case, nerve pain equivalent to electrocution.”
Yet Alabama planned to execute Barber “without ever allowing him discovery into what went wrong in the three prior executions and whether the state has fixed those problems,” Sotomayor said.
“The Eighth Amendment does not tolerate playing such games with a man’s life,” Sotomayor wrote.
The state had acquired new members of its IV team and obtained new equipment for Barber’s execution without explaining whether the changes would address the problems in last year’s attempted executions, according to Sotomayor.
Sotomayor called the majority’s refusal to stay Barber’s execution “another troubling example of this court stymying the development of Eighth Amendment law by pushing forward executions without complete information.”
Barber had been convicted for beating a 75-year-old woman to death with a claw hammer and his fists, according to the New York Times.