South Dakota inmate seeks delay to choose own execution drug
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Attorneys for a South Dakota prisoner asked a judge Tuesday to delay his execution while they argue that he should be able to choose the drug used in the lethal injection.
Charles Russell Rhines is to be put to death next week with pentobarbital, which several states have used in executions. But Craig Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University, testified on Rhines’ behalf Tuesday that it’s not an “ultra-short-acting” drug.
The state cited testimony from one of its expert witnesses, an anesthesiologist, who said there’s no difference in the way pentobarbital and drugs classified as “ultra-short-acting” work in an execution. Assistant Attorney General Paul Swedlund described in graphic detail how Rhines used a hunting knife to murder a young doughnut-shop worker in Rapid City in 1992. Swedlund called Rhines a “coward” and argued that Rhines is not making the appeal to win the case but to delay his execution.
Lawyers for Rhines argued that he has a “very limited say” in how he will be executed. When Rhines was convicted, South Dakota law stipulated that executions be carried out with “ultra-short-acting” drugs. Legislators changed the law in 2007 but stipulated that inmates sentenced to death can choose the manner of execution in effect when they were convicted.
Judge Jon Sogn said he would rule as quickly as he could. He gave the state until Wednesday to seek more time or submit additional testimony.
A Montana court ruled in 2015 that pentobarbital was not “ultra-short-acting,” but several other states, including Georgia, Missouri and Texas, use it in executions.
Pentobarbital was used last year when South Dakota executed Rodney Berget, who killed a prison guard during a 2011 escape attempt. Berget was pronounced dead 12 minutes after the lethal injection began, and a transcript released afterward said Berget asked after the injection was administered: “Is it supposed to feel like that?” That prompted a national group that studies capital punishment to call on the state to release more details about the drug used.
Rhines lost two other appeals to delay his execution last week. In those appeals, he argued that he should be able to meet with mental health experts to prepare a clemency application and that the state’s execution policies don’t follow the state’s rule-making requirement.
An exact date for Rhines’ execution hasn’t been announced.