Justices reject inmate's appeal of state's lethal injection method

October 04, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Maryland's new method of executing murderers with a lethal injection of drugs withstood a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Without comment, the court turned down the appeal of Tyrone Delano Gilliam Jr., who is awaiting execution for the 1988 murder of a woman outside her townhouse development in Baltimore County.

His case was rejected by the justices on the opening day of their new term, as was a new appeal by Vernon Lee Evans Jr., who has been sentenced to die for the murder-for-hire killing in Pikesville in 1983 of two witnesses in a federal drug case.

In Gilliam's case, the inmate contended that Maryland law allowing state pharmacists to provide lethal drugs for executions without a prescription was unconstitutional, because federal law bars that practice.

While Gilliam's various appeals have been moving through Maryland and federal courts, the state has changed its execution method to lethal injection. He was scheduled to die by that method in May, when he began the new challenge, which had the effect of postponing his execution.

His failed appeal to the Supreme Court contended that every time officials of the state use the drug sodium thiopental to carry out an execution, they will be violating federal drug control law. His complaint was rejected in state courts.

In the other case rejected by the justices yesterday, Evans sought a ruling that judges in state trials that could lead to a death sentence must ask jurors whether their sentencing decision would be influenced by the fact that two murders, not one, had been committed. State courts said that was not required.

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