Judge halts execution scheduled in Kentucky
By BRETT BARROUQUERE
A judge on Friday halted the scheduled Sept. 16 execution of a Kentucky man convicted of a 1987 kidnapping and murder and barred the state from carrying out any other executions because of questions about the state's lethal injection process.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that the state's protocol for an execution is inconsistent with the state's law and doesn't provide a safeguard to prevent a mentally retarded or criminally insane inmate from being executed.
"The Court finds that there are at least two substantial questions of law regarding the validity of the administrative regulations that require the Court to issue an injunction to preserve the status quo until the entry of final judgment," Shepherd wrote.
Shepherd's ruling comes six days before the state was set to carry out the execution of 53-year-old Gregory L. Wilson at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville. Wilson was convicted in 1988 of kidnapping, raping and murdering 36-year-old Deborah Pooley, a native of Hamilton, Ohio, in northern Kentucky a year earlier. A co-defendant in the case, Brenda Humphrey, is serving a life sentence.
Shelley Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Attorney General's Office, said prosecutors will ask the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear the case. Wilson's attorney, Dan Goyette, declined immediate comment.
Kentucky readopted its lethal injection protocol in May, seven months after the state's high court halted executions because the written process wasn't properly put into place. Two death row inmates immediately challenged it, with Wilson joining the suit on Wednesday.
Kentucky's protocol covers a variety of issues, including what to do about a condemned, pregnant inmate, but doesn't address if or how the state Department of Corrections should determine whether an inmate is mentally retarded or insane.
State law says that Kentucky may carry out a lethal injection with one drug or a combination of drugs. The protocol accounts only for using three drugs and, for older cases, the option of death by electrocution. Shepherd found that the state didn't explain during the adoption of the protocol or in court proceedings why it didn't create a one-drug option similar to the method used in Washington and Ohio, and apparently eliminated it from consideration.
Shepherd detailed the "sordid tale of the gruesome crime" Wilson was convicted of, but also noted that Wilson's attorneys at trial had no death penalty experience and that the inmate handled much of the case himself.
"As a result, Mr. Wilson appears to be the only inmate on death row in Kentucky who had no lawyer at trial," Shepherd wrote.
Shepherd's ruling, in part, directly contradicts the decision of Kenton Circuit Judge Gregory Bartlett, who last week turned away Wilson's request for mental testing, saying the issues were raised too late and there's no solid evidence of mental retardation.
Wilson's attorneys claim the only test ever given to their client showed an IQ of 62 - well below the legal limit of 70 to declare someone mentally retarded and ban his execution.
Because the state's protocol doesn't include a mechanism to determine if someone is mentally retarded and there are serious questions about Wilson's mental state, the execution cannot go forward, Shepherd wrote.
"The Court finds there is a good faith basis to believe that Wilson may be ineligible for the death penalty," Shepherd wrote.
Wilson has also appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court to grant DNA testing in his case. Bartlett turned down that request earlier this month.
Gov. Steve Beshear set an execution date for Wilson last month, picking his case from the three the Attorney General recommended for execution. Beshear chose it because it was the oldest of the three and noted that Kentucky has enough of the key drug in a lethal injection, sodium thiopental, to carry out only one execution.