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Justices reject more death row appeals

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Appeals involved death row inmates in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama
  • Inmates had challenged lethal injection method
  • Court upheld the method last week in Kentucky case
  • 7 other appeals also turned down, but executions aren't imminent
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By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court on Monday denied the appeals of more death row inmates, setting the stage for a possible nationwide resumption of capital punishment in coming weeks or months.

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The Supreme Court has set the stage for executions to resume, upholding the method of lethal injection.

The justices without comment on Monday rejected hearings for Carlton Turner of Texas, Earl Berry of Mississippi, and Thomas Arthur of Alabama. The ruling followed last week's decision that lethal injection procedures have been applied properly in another state, Kentucky.

Their executions had been put on hold by the Supreme Court after it said in September that it would consider the similar appeal from Kentucky. But the justices voted 7-2 last week that Kentucky's methods do not amount to "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The Supreme Court also rejected appeals from seven other death row inmates in Arizona, Ohio, Georgia and Missouri. Those men were not facing imminent execution, and the justices had not previously issued stays in their cases.

No dates have been set for executing the inmates involved in Monday's decisions, and further appeals are expected.

Virginia may be the first state to execute a convicted murderer. Kevin Green is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 27. His execution date was set before the high court ruled in the Kentucky case.

At issue in the appeals was whether the most common method of capital punishment could cause excruciating pain for death row inmates.

The justices had never before directly addressed the fundamental question of the constitutionality of the chemical "cocktail" of drugs used to execute convicted killers.

The three-drug method is used by some 35 states, plus the federal government. Only one of the states that perform executions does not use the three-drug method.

Virginia said immediately after the decision it was lifting its moratorium. Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi also announced they would proceed quickly with executions.

The high court's lethal injection ruling gives guidance to other states, some of which may have to modify their procedures to fall in line with Kentucky's method and thereby survive judicial scrutiny.

Two Kentucky inmates had brought suit in federal court three years ago, questioning that state's three-chemical mixture and the procedures used to administer it.

They claimed the first drug -- sodium thiopental -- which renders the prisoner unconscious, wears off too quickly, and that some prisoners are actually awake and able to feel pain as the procedure continues.

The second drug -- pancuronium bromide -- paralyzes all muscle movement, which prevents the condemned person from speaking out and expressing awareness of the pain, according to the inmates' suit, and the third drug, potassium chloride, which induces cardiac arrest, is "excruciatingly painful in a conscious person," it said.

Only 26 people were executed in the United States last year, the lowest total in more than a decade. No executions have taken place this year. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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