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US judge plans Monday ruling on Rhoades execution

November 11, 2011

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge told attorneys for a condemned Idaho inmate that he'll try to decide by Monday whether to postpone an execution scheduled to take place in one week.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush said Thursday night that he was concerned that the Idaho Department of Correction seemed to be "playing catch-up" when it came to planning for Paul Ezra Rhoades' execution, set for Nov. 18. Rhoades, who was convicted of murdering three people in 1987 and sentenced to die for two of the murders, has sued over Idaho's lethal injection protocol.

Rhoades contends the state's policy doesn't include enough safeguards to ensure that he is adequately anesthetized and he won't experience excruciating pain during the execution. Idaho attorneys counter that their protocol is similar to methods that have been upheld by the courts in other states.

Idaho's newly revised protocol — approved by the state just a couple weeks ago — requires that the condemned prisoner be administered an anesthetic drug first so he is rendered fully unconscious. Then, the execution team will administer a paralytic agent, preventing the inmate from moving or even drawing breath, followed by potassium chloride, a drug that will stop the heart.

Rhoades' attorneys say that if the anesthetic isn't given properly, Rhoades will be conscious but unable to signal his awareness once the paralytic kicks in. The third drug, potassium chloride, causes extreme agony, they said.

But Deputy Idaho Attorney General Krista Howard told the judge that a federal court ruling out of Kentucky considered all those factors and found that a three-drug protocol markedly similar to Idaho's was adequate and effective in protecting an inmate's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The protocol doesn't have to guarantee that problems won't happen, the state noted — only that the possibility of problems have been accounted for in state policies.

Postponing Rhoades' execution isn't in the best interest of the state, nor is it in the best interests of the family members of his victims, Howard told the court.

The judge told both sides he'd do all he could to get a ruling out by the start of next week.

"I've got a lot of mulling over I need to do," he said before ending the hearing shortly before 8 p.m.

Rhoades was given two death sentences for the sexual assault and murder of Idaho Falls teacher Susan Michelbacher, 34, whose bullet-ridden body was found in March 1987. He also was given two death sentences for the first-degree murder and kidnapping of Stacy Dawn Baldwin, 21, a Blackfoot convenience store clerk who was shot to death in February 1987.

Rhoades was also sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to the March 1987 shooting death of Nolan Haddon, 20, a Blackfoot man who worked at an Idaho Falls convenience store.

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