Execution of Union County murderer delayed following lawsuit

Execution of Union County murderer delayed following lawsuit

Stephen Michael West (source: Tennessee Department of Correction) Stephen Michael West (source: Tennessee Department of Correction)

6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Stephen Michael West was scheduled to be executed Tuesday, but the execution has been postponed following a lawsuit that claims lethal injection is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee's three-drug lethal injection protocol. Specifically, the suit claims the first drug administered fails to anesthetize the inmate before the other drugs are administered.

According to court documents, West's defense team claims "inmates are likely awake and conscious when the second and third drugs, which paralyze the muscles and cause cardiac arrest, are administered."

The Tennessee Supreme Court acknowledge the fact that there is no evidence in the record in defense of the lethal injection procedure, so the justices granted a stay of execution.

A temporary stay of execution was issued and reset to November 30.

"The Tennessee Supreme Court said, 'Wait a minute. We want to have a record. We want to know if there is a problem before we rule,'" Knoxville attorney Greg Isaacs explained. "So here at the 11th hour, West is the cat with the proverbial nine lives."

Isaacs is not involved in the case, but he has prosecuted similar cases.

He said West's attorneys are acting as they should, desperately trying to buy their client some time.

Stephen Ferrell, with the non-profit Federal Defender Services of Eastern Tennessee, is one of West's attorneys.

West was convicted in the 1986 stabbing deaths of Wanda Romines and her 15-year-old daughter, Sheila, in Union County. West was also convicted of raping the teenager.

He came within 10 hours of being sent to the electric chair in 2001.

His attorneys claim lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment, as outlined in the U.S. constitution. They point to the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

An anesthesiologist from Florida has provided expert information on their behalf.

"There are three executions where the lawyers can say, 'Look how it worked. It didn't do what the data said it's going to be,'" said Isaacs.

Lethal injection is fairly new in Tennessee. Only five people have been executed using the three-stage "cocktail."

"If this appeal wins, remember, West is not innocent," Isaacs said. "West does not get a new trial. He just gets a new way to die."

The Tennessee Supreme Court has sent West's case to the Davidson County Chancery Court where his claim will be heard.

No date has been set at this time.

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