Montana News

Aug 1, 2012 8:13 PM by Melissa Anderson (Helena)

ACLU challenges Montana's lethal injection protocol

The Montana chapter of the ACLU is asking a District Court judge to rule that Montana's lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional.

They claim the execution protocol doesn't follow the state's own statute.

During a hearing on Wednesday, the ACLU attorney said that after the Legislature upheld the death penalty in 2011, the procedures changed to allow three injections.

However, the state statute only allows for two.

The state argues that there is no need to spell out the specifics as the state has had a flawless history.

The ACLU also says the protocol should include medically-trained personnel to conduct the execution, but the state counters that the warden has the authority and that he makes sure everyone is qualified.

Judge Sherlock says he hopes to make a summary judgement on the matter without having to go to trial.

Currently there are two inmates on death row in Montana.

(August 24, 2011) The Montana ACLU plans to file an amended complaint to a lawsuit against the state's latest death penalty policy.

The ACLU says the new protocol doesn't require sufficient training or ensure that prisoners won't suffer.

But the state is standing by it's lethal injections procedure.

Currently there are two inmates on death row at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, William Gollehon and Ronald Allen Smith.

The ACLU's original lawsuit was filed in 2008 on behalf of Smith, who has been on death row for the past 26 years. He pleaded guilty to the killing of two men near Marias Pass in 1982.

The suit is challenging Montana's execution process, claiming that it violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Anytime a death warrant is issued, the state Department of Corrections says it reviews the process to make any updates or changes; the last review was in 2006.

According to the Legal Services Bureau Chief Colleen Ambrose, the latest revision, conducted by retired Warden Mike Mahoney, mainly clarifies the wording of the procedure.

Ambrose said, "We've always had somebody who was at minimum EMT-certified. And so we just added that into the protocol to make sure that that's what we're already doing."

However, the protocol recently allowed the substitution of another drug, pentobarbital, to be used as the fast-acting barbiturate. That's because the drug that has been used in the past is no longer being manufactured.

Ambrose explained, "And in that process they just indicate that you can either use sodium thiopental if it's available or another fast acting barbiturate. And the one that we chose was pentobarbital."

Attorney Ronald Waterman is working with the ACLU, and he said, "The drugs that the state has now adopted are drugs that have been designed for a different purpose and many of those manufacturers are objecting to those drugs being used."

The Montana Attorney General's office is ready to defend the state's newest protocol, and plans to uphold Montana law, which allows for execution.

MT Assistant Attorney General Mark Fowler said, "The lethal injection execution process is the most humane form of execution in the United States."

The ACLU plans to file an amended complaint on the DOC's protocol within the next 75 days, and then it's back to court for the state which is standing firm on the lethal injection process.

If the death penalty is carried out, Smith will become the fourth prisoner to become executed in Montana since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970's.

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