MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now to a Supreme Court decision involving an execution in Arizona. The court has, for now, cleared the way for states to obtain lethal-injection drugs from foreign sources.
NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg explains.
NINA TOTENBERG: Although the Supreme Court has upheld death by lethal injection, the regimen it has approved includes injection with a dose of FDA-approved sodium thiopental to render the prisoner unconscious so he doesn't feel pain. But in recent months, Hospira Incorporated, the only U.S. manufacturer of the drug, has been unable to meet demand, citing unspecified problems with its raw-material suppliers. And the shortage has left death-penalty states scrambling to find alternatives.
Enter Arizona, and the case of Jeffrey Landrigan. His lawyers sought to block his execution because state officials wouldnt say where they were getting the drug for the execution, and defense lawyers contended there was no way to evaluate the safety of the drug without knowing where it came from. Pressed by a federal judge, the state admitted it was using a drug from a foreign country, but wouldn't specify which one.
A frustrated federal judge Roslyn Silver then granted a temporary stay of execution, telling prosecutors she'd never seen a case in which one side claimed to have evidence that would rebut the other side's claims, but would not produce that evidence. State officials never did tell the judge where they got the drug, but they did tell the�Arizona Republic�newspaper it came from a British manufacturer. The state appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and late yesterday, the justices, by a 5-to-4 vote, lifted the stay of execution, allowing Landrigan to be put to death last night.
The five-justice court majority said there is no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe.
Last night's execution, the state's first since 2007, puts an end to a case that is remarkable in many respects. The Supreme Court ruled three years ago that Landrigan was not entitled to any further hearings on his case because, as Justice Clarence Thomas put it for a 5-to-4 majority, there was no evidence that would change the outcome of his case.
Since then, however, DNA evidence not tested at the time of trial seems to exclude Landrigan from the bloody fight that ended in the victim's death, though Landrigan does not dispute that he was there. And the judge who sentenced Landrigan to death has testified she would not have imposed the death penalty�had Landrigan's lawyer presented doctors' reports and evaluations that showed at the time of trial in 1990, that Landrigan suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and brain injuries.
Also this week, an Arizona clemency board considered the Landrigan case. Board chairman Duane Belcher(ph), an 18-year veteran, said Landrigans case was not among the worst of the worst, and that the board indeed had considered parole for some criminals whose crimes were worse.
Mr. DUANE BELCHER (Chairman, Arizona Clemency Board) I don't, at this point, see this as being a death-penalty case.
TOTENBERG: The board, however, deadlocked 2-2 on clemency for Landrigan, and a tie meant the execution went forward.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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