Virginia Governor Orders Moratorium On Executions Amid Pending Supreme Court Case

Virginia has put all executions on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether lethal injections are constitutional.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine ordered the moratorium on Tuesday in delaying the scheduled April 8 execution of Edward Nathaniel Bell until July 24.

It is the 30th such stay of execution nationally since September, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear a Kentucky case that challenged the constitutionality of lethal injections. Other executions are not being scheduled pending the ruling, expected in late June.

"That's the pattern all over the country — dates are not being set," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Wednesday.

Virginia is among 35 states that use lethal injection.

Bell, 43, was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to die for the October 1999 shooting of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook.

Earlier, the planned October execution of Virginia death row inmate Christopher Scott Emmett also was stayed pending the court review.

Since the Supreme Court allowed states to reinstate capital punishment in 1976, 1,099 executions have been carried out in the United States, including 98 in Virginia, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Only Texas has carried out more executions, at 405.

Lethal injection, devised as a humane alternative to electrocution and the gas chamber, has come under attack because of reports that a series of three drugs administered in the process doesn't always work as quickly as intended and that inmates might die in excruciating pain.

The U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment.