12 August 2005 :a condemned killer is challenging Tennessee's method of lethal injection, calling it an illogical process in part because it includes a drug forbidden in the euthanasia of animals.
A lawyer for Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, 54, will argue before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday. Abdur'Rahman is asking the court to order the state's Department of Corrections to revise the way executions are conducted.
Among the changes he is requesting: an end to the use of pancuronium bromide, or Pavulon, in the injections used to kill condemned inmates.
Pavulon is not allowed by the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia of animals, and opponents say it can cause extreme suffering that isn't visible because of its paralyzing effect. Corrections departments across the country counter there is no evidence that the drugs used in lethal injection, including Pavulon, cause anything other than a relatively painless death.
Abdur'Rahman's lawyer, Bradley MacLean, said his client had asked him why Pavulon is used in the state's executions.
"Basically he said, 'You mean they're going to execute me with something they wouldn't use on a dog?'" MacLean said. "There's just the stigma attached with using a chemical that's strictly prohibited for potbellied pigs."
Tennessee has put an inmate to death by injection only once, in 2000 -- the state's only execution in 45 years.
Pavulon is one of three drugs used in lethal injection cocktail in Tennessee. The first, sodium pentathol, acts as an anesthetic to put the inmate to sleep. Pavulon then paralyzes the muscle system. The 3rd drug, potassium chloride, stops the heart.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never found a specific form of execution to be unconstitutional. Lethal injection is used in 37 states because it is considered more humane than options like the electric chair or gas chamber.
Abdur'Rahman, previously known as James Lee Jones, was sentenced to die for the 1986 stabbing death of a Nashville drug dealer. It was his 2nd slaying. He had been convicted previously of assault and sentenced to federal prison, where he killed an inmate he said had repeatedly raped him.
His lawsuit over the state's use of Pavulon is aimed at changing death penalty methods. Separate appeals intended to block his execution are under way in the federal courts.