Federal Judge delays condemned Ohio killer’s executionWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A federal judge on July 8 delayed the execution of a condemned Ohio killer of two, agreeing with the inmate that the state enforces some of its execution policies haphazardly.
Kenneth Smith was scheduled to die July 19 for the slayings of a husband and wife in their Hamilton home during a 1995 robbery.
Smith and other inmates argue that Ohio too often strays from its execution policies by not always having the required number of execution team members present and not always documenting the mixing of drugs.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost agreed, calling four areas where the state strayed from its policies an embarrassment and creating what he called “haphazard application” of its death penalty protocols.
“Ohio pays lip service to standards it then often ignores without valid reasons, sometimes with no physical ramifications and sometimes with what have been described as messy if not botched executions,” Frost wrote.
If appealed and upheld, Frost’s decision would allow Smith to argue in an upcoming trial that the state violates the federal constitution with its uneven application of its rules for executing inmates.
Frost did not rule on whether Ohio’s death penalty was constitutional.
Smith’s attorneys were pleased with the decision, saying Frost recognized the state’s practices were “constitutionally disturbing.”
Frost made clear that, “when administering the ultimate punishment to an individual as a consequence for breaking society’s laws, the State be required to follow the law as well,” said the statement from Smith’s federal public defense team.
The state attorney general’s office said it was studying the ruling and couldn’t comment yet on an appeal.
The state prisons system said carrying out death sentences is a difficult task.
“However, we are confident our team consistently carries out this responsibility in a professional, humane and dignified manner,” said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Sentencing expert Doug Berman said Frost’s ruling could halt other executions in Ohio and could be a rallying point for death row inmates nationally.
“States are often modifying their execution process ‘on the fly,’ especially as they struggle to find the drugs necessary to conduct lethal injections,” said Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University.
States scrambled in the past year to find supplies of a key execution drug after the sole manufacturer discontinued its use.
Smith, 45, was convicted of cutting Lewis Ray’s throat on May 12, 1995. Smith’s brother, Smith’s brother, was convicted of strangling Ruth Ray. Court documents say Kenneth Smith boasted about kicking Ruth Ray in the head to make sure she was dead.
Randy Smith is serving a sentence of 30 years to life.
Frost said the state fails to document the preparation of its lethal drugs and fails to always check an inmate’s veins to see if the prisoner can receive an intravenous injection.
The judge also said the state doesn’t always have the required two members of the medical team present and doesn’t control who participates in an execution.
During a hearing on Smith’s request last week, the warden of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility testified he was aware that only one medical team member was present during executions in January and May 2010 but believed the protocols allowed him to make adjustments he felt necessary.
The issue of not controlling who participates relates to the botched 2009 execution of Romell Broom. As the state tried unsuccessfully to find a vein, it sought the help of Dr. Carmelita Bautista, who was not a member of the execution team, to try to insert the needle.
Then-Gov. Ted Strickland stopped the execution attempt after two hours. Broom remains on death row and is challenging the state’s attempt to try to execute him again.
AP Legal Affairs Writer