Death Penalty

Supreme Court Halts Execution in MS

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A last-minute decision tonight by the U.S. Supreme Court to call off the scheduled execution of a Mississippi murderer seemingly signals that there is now a de facto death penalty moratorium in place nationwide.

The decision—which was made a mere 15 minutes or so before Earl W. Berry was scheduled to die by lethal injection for the abduction and murder 20 years ago of a parishioner as she left church—is the third time in the five weeks since the Supreme Court agreed to hear a Kentucky case on the constitutionality of lethal injections that the justices have granted a stay of execution, notes the New York Times.

State courts have also recently postponed some scheduled executions, and observers say the overall scenario suggests that an effective national moratorium on executions may now be in place. Although it isn’t clear that the same issue would apply concerning the execution of inmates by other methods, most states now use lethal injections to carry out the death penalty.

Although the method originally became popular because it was perceived as more humane than other options such as hanging and even the electric chair, questions have now been raised about whether lethal injections merely paralyze inmates and thus preclude them from expressing pain as they die, rather than preventing them from feeling it.

Meanwhile, the ABA called this week for a national moratorium on the death penalty for other reasons, saying that it is unfairly applied, without adequate safeguards against mistake.

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