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Last updated 7:28AM ET
January 27, 2022
Judge: Death Row Inmates' Lawsuit Deserves Trial
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - A federal judge has ruled two death row inmates deserve a trial on their lawsuit claiming Alabama's lethal injection procedures are unconstitutionally cruel.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins denied the state government's request for a ruling in the state's favor without a trial. In a Nov. 16 order, the judge said the legal claims raised by Willie McNair and James Callahan should go to trial, but he did not immediately set a trial date.

The Alabama Supreme Court has scheduled Callahan's execution for Jan. 31, but Callahan's attorneys have asked for a postponement. McNair does not have an execution date set.

Attorneys for the state argued in federal court that McNair and Callahan waited too late to challenge Alabama's lethal injection law, which was enacted in 2004. But the judge said the inmates filed suit in 2006 before the state sought execution dates for either man, and that's early enough.

Other Alabama inmates have had similar suits thrown out because they filed the suits after the state attorney general asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set execution dates for them.

Watkins noted in his order that the trial could have been held in October but had to be delayed when the state changed its lethal injection procedures to make sure an inmate is unconscious before receiving drugs to stop the lungs and heart.

Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said Tuesday that Watkins' handling of the case could be impacted by the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to hear a similar lethal injection case from Kentucky.

In his Nov. 16 order, Watkins wrote that the Alabama trial will address issues such as the training of the execution team and the monitoring of the condemned inmate for unconsciousness while the deadly drugs are being administered.

The judge also noted that before the trial, he plans to inspect the death chamber at Holman Prison in Atmore because material issues of fact exist as to the appropriate location of execution team members during the procedure, the length and location of IV lines, the size of the observation window, and the location of equipment and supplies.

McNair was sentenced to death for the robbery and murder of Ella Foy Riley of Abbeville on May 21, 1990.

Callahan was sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Jacksonville State University student Rebecca Suzanne Howell on Feb. 4, 1982.
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