Monday, April 21, 2008

Court rejects appeals by 11 death row inmates

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday followed up on its ruling last week upholding the commonly used lethal injection method of execution and rejected appeals by 11 death row inmates in seven states.

The ruling cleared the way for a resumption of executions that had been halted for nearly seven months while the justices considered a constitutional challenge to the three-drug cocktail used in the executions.

The ruling means more than a dozen death row inmates likely will get early execution dates. Officials in the leading death penalty states, like Texas, Virginia and Florida, said they planned to schedule executions that previously had been on hold.

With last week's 7-2 vote, the high court ruled against two Kentucky death row inmates who argued the lethal injection method violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment by inflicting needless pain and suffering.

The appeals by the 11 death row inmates raised the same issue, and the cases apparently had been held by the high court pending the ruling in the Kentucky case. The rejection of the appeals was expected.

The cases involved appeals by three death row inmates in both Georgia and Ohio and one each from Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

In last week's ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens said for the first time that he believed the death penalty itself was unconstitutional.

Stevens in two of the cases said he agreed with the court's decision to reject the appeals, but emphasized that in turning down the appeals the court expresses no opinion on the merits of the underlying claim.

(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by David Storey)

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