LOS ANGELES — The execution of a convicted murderer in Nevada was stayed at the 11th hour on Monday after an appeal by rights groups over the method of lethal injection to be used. William Castillo had been due to be executed at 8:30 pm (0330 GMT) but was spared following a last-ditch legal bid by the American Civil Liberties Union to the Nevada Supreme Court. The ACLU petition argued that one of the lethal drugs due to be pumped into Castillo was so potent that it made it impossible to determine if the recipient was in pain when the execution was carried out. “We’re obviously delighted that the court has made the right decision,” said ACLU attorney Lee Rowland, who presented oral arguments to the court. “It’s not only legally correct, it’s also morally correct.” Under the terms of the order, the ACLU must present further arguments to the court within 20 days for a full review of claims made in their petition, Rowland told AFP. Castillo, 34, was sentenced to death for beating an 86-year-old Las Vegas woman to death with a tire iron during a burglary in 1995. He had not sought to appeal the death sentence. However rights groups had argued that the method of execution due to be used on Castillo made it impossible to gauge whether or not he was suffering pain. It followed months of nationwide controversy over lethal injections, the most commonly used execution method in the U.S.. On September 25 the Supreme Court said it would sit to determine the constitutionality of lethal injections, examining the cases of two men on death row in Kentucky. Executions in several states across the U.S. have been postponed pending the Supreme Court hearing, which is expected in early 2008. During execution by lethal injection, three drugs are administered to the condemned person: one to sedate him, one to paralyze him, and one to stop the heart. However, there is no national protocol for administering the drugs and it is not always done by a medical professional.
While the prisoner may appear calm, several studies and botched executions have shown that death may in fact be prolonged and quite painful. A 2005 study showed only small amounts of sedatives in the bodies of the condemned, leaving open the possibility that they were awake when the other two medications were injected.