Maryland Halts Executions Until Lethal Injection Process is Clarified

An appeals court in Maryland ruled Tuesday that state executions cannot proceed until a legislative panel reviews parts of the manual that spell out the protocol for lethal injections.

The Maryland Court of Appeals said the manual was never given a public hearing or properly submitted to a joint committee before the Department of Corrections adopted it.

The ruling comes as states nationwide are scrutinizing lethal injection procedures. Last week, a moratorium was placed on executions in Florida after a lethal injection was botched. Executions also are halted in Missouri and California because of lethal injection concerns.

The manual defines which drugs are used in a lethal injection and how the injection occurs. Like many states, Maryland uses three drugs during executions. Sodium pentothal makes the inmate unconscious, pancurium bromide paralyzes the inmate's breathing, and potassium chloride stops the heart.

The court said that the protocol outlined in the manual appears to be consistent with state law, but that the legislative committee charged with reviewing the protocol "may have a different view." Under state law, lawmakers must review the protocol before it is approved.

Delegate Anne Healey, who helps lead the committee that would review the document, said that it was too soon to say whether the legislature would take up lethal injection when it convenes in January.

Karen V. Poe, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said attorneys for the state will review the opinion and advise the department head on the next course of action.

The decision was in a ruling that rejected three other challenges from attorneys representing death row inmate Vernon Evans Jr. Evans was sentenced to die for the murders of Scott Piechowicz and his sister-in-law, Susan Kennedy, in 1983.

His attorney, A. Stephen Hut Jr., called the ruling "an important win" at a time when lethal injection is under scrutiny in other states. Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, an advocacy group, also cheered the ruling, saying it would provide "much-needed scrutiny of Maryland's execution protocol."

There are five men on Maryland's death row, and there are no other executions currently scheduled. The last inmate to be executed in the state was Wesley E. Baker on Dec. 5, 2005.