Rather than challenge the state's legal authority to kill a criminal, three death-row inmates took a more nuanced approach to fighting their pending executions. In 2008 they filed suit arguing that the three-drug cocktail used to execute someone in this state constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Unfortunately for the convicts, the state changed how it performs lethal injections this year, essentially rendering their case moot. Today the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the inmates may still be put to death, with one of the men scheduled to face the executioner on Sept. 10.
All three of the men currently on death row in Washington--Cal Brown, Jonathan Gentry, and Darold Stenson--participated in the case challenging Washington's method of execution. They claimed that if the first drug, thiopental, is administered incorrectly, you won't slip all the way into a coma where you feel nothing, as intended. Then the other two drugs, meant to paralyze the body and stop the heart, will result in an excruciatingly painful death.
But starting in March of this year, the state changed its method of execution to a much higher dose of the thiopental, which not only induces a coma but stops the convict's respiratory system, leading to death. The other two drugs aren't used at all. Hence the high court's ruling.
Gentry and Stenson have other cases related to their convictions still working through the court system and have stays on their executions. But not Brown.
Almost two decades ago, Brown stopped a woman named Holly Washa as she was driving out of a parking lot, pointing to her back tire, according to a Seattle Times report. When she opened her door to see what was wrong with the tire, he stabbed her in the neck and kidnapped her. A jury ruled, based in part on a confession, that he then raped, and murdered her. Washa's body was found in the trunk of a car near the airport.
The Supreme Court ruling today means that unless Brown can come up with another legal issue to fight his execution, he will die on Sept. 10, Assistant Attorney General John Samson says. He will be executed by the one-drug method unless he chooses the three-drug cocktail he fought in court or death by hanging, which is still legal in this state.