Update, 5/17: J.W. Ledford Jr.’s request was denied, and he was put to death by lethal injection early Wednesday morning at a state prison in Jackson, Georgia.
A Georgia man set to be executed on Tuesday has asked that he be killed by firing squad rather than lethal injection. The request was made through his lawyers last Thursday, who argued that subjecting him to the pain of lethal injection would infringe on his constitutional rights.
J.W. Ledford Jr. was convicted of stabbing his 73-year-old neighbor to death in 1992 and takes the drug gabapentin for chronic nerve pain. His lawyers claimed that, because the drug alters his brain chemistry, the lethal cocktail that Georgia administers to kill prisoners would cause Ledell higher pain levels than normal.
From Think Progress:
“Mr. Ledford proposes that the firing squad is a readily implemented and more reliable alternative method of execution that would eliminate the risks posed to him by lethal injection,” Ledford’s attorneys argued in court papers filed last week.
That request is unlikely to be met by the state of Georgia, however. According to Think Progress reporter E. A. Crunden, the state’s attorneys wrote that if Ledford “really thought the firing squad was a reasonable alternative, he could have alerted the State years, instead of 5 days, before his execution.”
Currently, the only states that allow execution by firing squad are Mississippi, Utah, and Oklahoma, according to Al Jazeera.
The debate around the constitutional legality of lethal injection was reignited after Arkansas’ attempted marathon execution of 11 death row inmates last month. After various appeals, four men ended up being killed. The execution of inmate Kenneth Williams made headlines due to what witnesses described as “horrific” lurching and convulsing prior to his death.
At the heart of the issue is whether the U.S.’s use of lethal injection constitutes as “cruel and unusual punishment,” which is banned by the Constitution. While some states have maintained the right to execute its citizens, according to the Eighth Amendment, it’s illegal to subject those citizens to a procedure that would be tantamount to torture.
Opponents of lethal injection argue that that’s precisely what’s happening when these inmates are put to death.
And, as Slate pointed out in a 2014 article, medical experts are rarely on hand for these executions, in part because it could violate their Hippocratic oaths. As a result, the article says, the vast majority of lethal injections are carried out by executioners who are “fundamentally incompetent.”