State lawyers argue Oken suit has no merit

May 28, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for the state prison system responded yesterday to a lawsuit filed by death-row inmate Steven Oken, rejecting his argument that Maryland's lethal injection procedure is unconstitutional because it is akin to torture.

The Maryland Attorney General's office included in its response an affidavit from an anesthesiologist that says the amount of barbiturate administered during lethal injections is enough to render an inmate unconscious. The state also filed a request for summary judgment to dismiss Oken's lawsuit, filed May 18 by his attorney, Fred W. Bennett.

Oken, convicted in 1991 of the rape and murder of a White Marsh newlywed, is scheduled for execution the week of June 14. He would be the first person executed in Maryland in nearly six years.

In a 58-page response, the state's lawyers said Oken's lawsuit is without merit.

"Legal challenges to lethal injection are nothing new; they have been repeatedly raised and uniformly rejected for nearly two decades," the state's lawyers wrote. "[H]e has brought this challenge in an eleventh-hour effort to block a method of execution to which he has known he would be subject for more than ten years."

Bennett said yesterday that he would "work around the clock, if necessary, to address each and every issue raised by the state."

Bennett said he plans in his reply to the state to "cite with vigor" this week's unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision that a death-row inmate in Alabama has the right to argue that lethal injection is unconstitutional because executioners might have to slice his arm or leg to insert an intravenous line.

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