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Thread: Ralph S. Baze, Jr. - Kentucky Death Row

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    Ralph S. Baze, Jr. - Kentucky Death Row




    Facts of the Crime:

    Was sentenced to death February 4, 1994 in Rowan County for the murder of two police officers. On January 30, 1992 a Powell County Deputy, Arthur Briscoe, went to Baze’s home regarding warrants from Ohio. He returned with Sheriff Steve Bennett. Baze, using an assault rifle, killed the two police officers. Baze was arrested the same day in Estill County.

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    August 16, 2007

    Baze's Lawyers Call for Delay of Execution

    Lawyers for a death row inmate says setting an execution date now would be premature.

    2 days after the attorney general asked the governor to set an execution date for death row inmate Ralph Baze, the cop killer's legal team said signing a death warrant at this time would be premature. In a four page letter delivered to Governor Ernie Fletcher Thursday afternoon, Baze's attorneys said "... the Attorney General makes it sound as though no litigation is pending. This is not accurate."

    On Tuesday the Attorney General Greg Stumbo asked Fletcher to set a September 18 execution date because Baze had "exhausted" his appeals in all federal and state courts. But, the Department of Public Advocacy lawyers say decisions are still pending on lethal injection cases in the U.S. and Kentucky Supreme Courts.

    Baze was one of two Kentucky death row inmates who lost a Kentucky Circuit Court case in April 2005 which challenged the state's method of lethal injection. The appeal of that ruling was sent to the state's highest court, which granted a stay until Baze could seek review. The letter to Fletcher says the AG is asking the governor to "circumvent the legal process" by executing Baze six weeks before the litigation "could come to its natural conclusion."

    Baze gunned down Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and his brother in law, Deputy Arthur Briscoe, outside Baze's rural home in 1992 as they attempted to serve outstanding felony warrants.

    Fletcher's legal adviser says the governor will make a decision soon.

    (Source: The Associated Press)

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    August 22, 2007

    Fletcher to sign death warrant for Baze

    Gov. Ernie Fletcher plans to sign a death warrant tomorrow that will set Sept. 25 as the execution date for Ralph Baze Jr.

    Baze, one of 40 inmates on Kentucky's death row, was convicted in the 1992 shooting deaths of Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe. The governor's office released a statement yesterday saying that Fletcher will sign the death warrant.

    "Justice demands a judicial process that affords the accused a fair and impartial hearing," the statement said. "Baze received just that. Justice likewise requires imposition of the penalty commensurate with the offense. Here, a jury found that Baze planned and murdered a sheriff and a sheriff's deputy. Imposition of the death penalty is therefore appropriate."

    Last month the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Baze's final appeal. And last week Attorney General Greg Stumbo asked Fletcher to sign a death warrant for Baze.

    State Public Advocate Ernie Lewis released a statement that said the Department of Public Advocacy, which represents Baze, hopes the governor will grant him clemency.

    "There are significant reasons why clemency should be granted in this case," Lewis said. "Ralph Baze was suffering from extreme emotional disturbance, believing that Deputy Briscoe showed up at his residence to arrest him falsely and at the behest of the other family members who Ralph Baze believed were harassing him. Judge Guy Cole of the Sixth Circuit (Court of Appeals) found these circumstances so compelling as to register a dissent in Baze's case."

    Baze was sentenced to death before the legislature passed a law establishing lethal injection - rather than electrocution - as the state's method of execution.

    That law provides that anyone who had already been sentenced to death would have the choice of either method, said David Fleenor, general counsel for the governor's office.

    Kentucky has executed 2 men, the last one in 1999, since reinstating the death penalty in 1976.

    (Source: The Associated Press)

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    September 11, 2007

    Convicted killer Ralph Baze is scheduled to be put to death on September 25 at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Lyon County, and said Monday in an interview with LEX 18 that though he admits his killings, he didn't receive a fair trial.

    Baze, 52, admits that he shot and killed Powell County Sheriff Keith Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe in 1992. However, Baze claims he feared for his life before the shooting, and that he faces the death penalty because his victims were law enforcement officers.

    Baze said the shooting was the result of a family dispute that got out of hand, and that prosecutors repeatedly twisted testimony and the facts of the case.

    Baze has filed an appeal to Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher for clemency, but recognizes that his time is running out if clemency is not granted. "If someone doesn't stand up for the truth, I am going to die on September 25," he said.

    In the last 4 months, Baze has sent letters to state Attorney General Greg Stumbo, the Kentucky Supreme Court and the commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted him, alleging misconduct by the attorney general's office and multiple judges.

    Stumbo's office denies any wrongdoing and said the facts of the case show Baze is guilty.

    Last month, Fletcher signed a death warrant for Baze. It's the 2nd time Baze has faced an imminent execution. A judge stayed the previous execution order in 2002.

    Baze is also the plaintiff in 2 federal civil suits, 1 challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection, another contesting the way Kentucky purchases the 3 drugs used in an execution.

    Both suits are pending.

    Kentucky has conducted 1 other lethal injection execution, putting Eddie Lee Harper to death in 1999.

    Baze has selected a priest from Ohio, a prison minister and 2 attorneys to serve as his witnesses to the execution. He is considering bypassing a last meal and fasting instead.

    (Source: The Associated Press)

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    September 13, 2007

    The execution of Ralph Baze Jr., convicted of the 1992 slayings of two police officers, has been stayed by the state Supreme Court.

    In its order released yesterday, the court said it needed more time to consider Baze's appeal challenging whether his original case was improperly moved to Rowan Circuit Court in 1993. Baze had been scheduled to be executed Sept. 25.

    This is the 2nd time in 7 years that the execution of Baze, who was convicted of killing Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe in Powell County, has been stayed. His execution was first set for April 10, 2001, but was postponed. In 2005, Baze came close to execution again but no date was set.

    He has three appeals pending before the state Supreme Court, two cases in the federal court and one appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. Baze's lawyers also filed a new lawsuit yesterday, challenging the state's use of an emergency medical technician during the lethal injection procedure.

    They said that the state Supreme Court's decision validates what they've been saying since Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed Baze's death warrant Aug. 22 -- that the order of execution was signed too soon.

    "I believe that this vindicates our arguments that the warrant was signed prematurely and that there were appeals still out there," said David Barron, one of Baze's lawyers.

    But for the families of Bennett and Briscoe, yesterday's Supreme Court decision was a blow. After 15 years of waiting, they had hoped that in 2 weeks Baze would finally be out of their lives.

    "I'm disappointed that he has another stay," said Dennis Briscoe, the deputy's son. "I know for a lot of my family it's going be like being victimized all over again. They've already went through this a couple of times and it keeps getting harder."

    Once a stay has been issued by a court, another execution date must be set.

    A hearing on whether the case was heard in the appropriate court is scheduled for Nov. 15 before the Supreme Court.

    The decision by the court to issue a stay was unanimous. Justice Will T. Scott recused himself from hearing the case at the request of Baze's lawyers. Scott, according to court documents, made comments about the Baze case in advertisements during his 2004 successful bid for the high court.

    Attorney General Greg Stumbo, whose office represents the state during the appeals process, said yesterday he would make sure that the 1993 jury decision to end Baze's life is completed.

    "My office will continue to work to see that the verdict of the jury in the Baze case is carried out," Stumbo said in a written statement. "We are confident that any remaining issues will be resolved in the Commonwealth's favor."

    In the Franklin Circuit Court case, Baze's attorneys are challenging whether it's appropriate for an emergency medical technician to insert an intravenous tube to deliver the three-drug cocktail that is part of the lethal injection process.

    According to the lawsuit, an EMT must be supervised by a paramedic, and a paramedic must be supervised by a medical doctor, according to Kentucky law. But no doctors are part of the execution team and therefore the EMT, who is not named, is violating state laws by inserting the IV, the lawsuit argues.

    Dennis Briscoe said he hopes Baze's appeals will be heard quickly and that another execution date will be set soon.

    "I was hoping that this whole chapter in all of our lives was going to be over," he said. "We're going to have to wait a little longer."

    (Source: The Herald-Leader)

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    September 23, 2007

    Court Says Execution Stay Stands

    The Kentucky Supreme Court turned down a prosecutor's request to reconsider its decision to stop the execution of a man convicted of killing a sheriff and deputy.

    The high court issued a one-page order on Friday turning away Attorney General Greg Stumbo's motion to lift the stay of execution issued for Ralph S. Baze. Baze was sentenced to death for the 1992 shootings of Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe.

    He was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Sept. 25, but the Supreme Court stopped it last week. The justices scheduled hearings in November on 3 issues Baze raised in an appeal last month.

    Stumbo asked Gov. Ernie Fletcher on Aug. 13 to set an execution date for Baze. Fletcher signed the warrant on Aug. 22. In between those two dates, Baze's attorneys filed the appeal with the Kentucky Supreme Court and asked for a stay of execution. Prosecutors did not respond to the appeal.

    Baze, 52, has been on death row for 14 years. Gov. Paul Patton signed a warrant setting his execution in April 2001, but a judge intervened and stopped it.

    Kentucky has executed 2 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

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    January 7, 2008

    EDDYVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Ralph Baze says he's through apologizing for gunning down Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe on Jan. 30, 1992.

    He says now, as he said then, that he shot the lawmen in a desperate attempt to save his own life.

    "I've done all the apologizing I'm going to do," Baze said in a recent prison interview. "They either believe me or they don't."

    Baze also makes no apologies for working since his 1993 murder conviction and death sentence to persuade the appellate courts to free him.

    "I'm not going to throw my hands up and not try to even save my life," he said.

    But those efforts have left the families of Baze's victims with a bitter resentment that has simmered for the past 15 years.

    "It makes me sick," said Carl Briscoe, as he talks about how the man who shot his brother in the back of the head is today sitting comfortably in a cell in Eddyville.

    This week, the case garners national attention as the Supreme Court considers it, along with another from Kentucky, as part of an argument that lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment.

    Attorneys for Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr., who was convicted of murdering a Lexington couple and wounding their toddler in 1990, sued Kentucky three years ago, saying the drugs involved in lethal injection cause unnecessary pain. After losing that challenge in the Kentucky Supreme Court in November 2006, they petitioned the Supreme Court for review.

    In a recent prison interview, Baze said he knows the Supreme Court decision — no matter what it is — won't result in his release.

    "The lethal injection (argument) is something one of my attorneys felt necessary to do," Baze said. "It is litigation that's time had come, and I just happened to be one of the people in the position where it could be filed under my name."

    Focused on the fight

    Baze said he spends most of his time focused on his state appeals. During an interview in a small room at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, where he's housed on death row, he displayed a thick folder crammed with legal documents and information he believes will exonerate him.

    "I think I'm going to walk out of here a free man," he said.

    The families of Briscoe and Bennett say that's something they'll fight against forever, though the process is painful.

    Orville Bennett, Steve's brother, said he can hardly stand to look at the news broadcasts or clippings that recount the details of the case. For 15 years, he's avoided traveling to the spot of his brother's death.

    "I don't want to ever see it," he said, echoing Carl Briscoe's frustration about the delays in executing Baze.

    "It just seems like the justice system has failed, failed us," he said, sitting in the living room of the family home in Stanton where he and his brother grew up.

    What happened that day?

    Arthur Briscoe went to Baze's home, on a ridge off Little Hardwick Creek Road, on Jan. 30, 1992, to serve four warrants from Toledo, Ohio, according to 1992 news accounts.

    The warrants stemmed from charges that included retaining stolen property and felony assault.

    Baze acknowledges being agitated by Briscoe's visit, knowing that his wife's adult children — with whom he was feuding — had told the local authorities about the Ohio warrants.

    Baze admits he was armed with a semi-automatic rifle, and pointed it at Briscoe as he came onto his property.

    After that initial confrontation, Baze said he turned toward the cabin to leave and his wife saw Briscoe start to reach for his gun.

    During a 1992 interview, Baze's wife Becky, who has since died, told The Courier-Journal that she grabbed the deputy's arm and yelled for her husband to run.

    He did, and Briscoe got into his cruiser and went down a hill to call for backup.

    That's when Bennett, who also was Briscoe's brother-in-law, responded.

    Accounts differ on what happened next.

    Baze said the lawmen returned to the ridge and began shooting after seeing him walk out from behind a brush pile to surrender. He claimed he was shot in the leg by their first shot and was forced to fire his own weapon.

    "I grabbed my rifle and we go to war," Baze said. "These two men are trying to kill me."

    But Deputy Robert Mathews, who was then a Stanton police officer and among the first on scene, said Bennett tried to talk Baze into putting down his weapon, but Baze started shooting.

    Bennett was shot in the back as he tried to seek cover in the backseat of his police cruiser, Mathews said.

    Baze doesn't dispute that.

    "Only thing I know is these guys are shooting at me," Baze said. "I know the second he got rearranged he was going to try to kill me again. So I did not hesitate to shoot him."

    Briscoe had moved behind the front of the cruiser, trying to shoot at Baze from a covered position.

    "Every time he put his head above the car, I tried to put a bullet between his eyes," Baze said, adding that when he reached the front of the cruiser, Briscoe turned to run, while at the same time turning back to shoot.

    "I shot him in the back," Baze said. "At that moment, it was the only shot I had at him."

    As Briscoe lay on the ground, Baze said he walked up and shot him in the back of the head. Then he grabbed both officers' weapons and ran.

    Into the night, officers from surrounding counties scoured the area for Baze and set up road blocks.

    Baze had headed for the woods, going over a mountain before eventually knocking on a door in neighboring Estill County. He had no idea it was the home of a former sheriff.

    He turned himself in peacefully.

    By the end of 1993, Baze was sent to trial in Rowan County because of pre-trial publicity in Powell. After a week-long case, jurors spent 21 hours weighing evidence before convicting him.

    They spent another 18 hours considering Baze's punishment, eventually recommending death.

    Baze's past

    Ralph Baze spent much of his adult life working as a mechanic and doing odd jobs. He'd been raised in Toledo, Ohio, but had spent some time as a boy living in Bath County, Ky. He served in the Army for a few years in the 1970s, according to Courier-Journal archives.

    After divorcing a woman he met and married in Ohio, he returned to Kentucky in the mid-1980s.

    According to a Courier-Journal article from 1992, Baze also made some money driving cars to other states. In 1988, he pleaded guilty in Bath Circuit Court to knowingly receiving a stolen auto, and was sentenced to one year in prison. He served slightly more than five months before being paroled.

    Baze married his second wife, Becky, in 1987, and they moved to a small wooden cabin off Little Hardwick Creek Road near Clay City — to find a peaceful life, he said.

    But in the weeks leading up to the shooting, Baze had been feuding about money with some of Becky's children.

    He said his stepson, Aaron Keed Highley, and his wife, Dana, had made false accusations to police.

    Dana Highley acknowledged in a news story in 1992 that she and her husband alerted Powell County authorities to the outstanding warrants against Baze from Ohio.

    During the prison interview, Baze said he and his wife had been planning to sell their property and move to Florida. On the day of the shooting, he said, they'd been getting ready for a yard sale and were packing up to go. "We would have been out of the state that very evening of the shootout," he said.

    Baze said he's had plenty of time to think about that while in prison.

    And he said that he wishes that things had ended differently.

    "It never leaves you," he said. "This was not all my doing, but I was involved. I'm the man who pulled the trigger. I have to live with that."

    The victims' history

    Arthur Briscoe had been a deputy for only a few weeks when he went to the Baze cabin to serve the Ohio warrants.

    Neither he nor Bennett had childhood dreams about becoming police officers, Carl Briscoe said.

    But after losing their factory jobs, both turned to the Powell County sheriff's office for employment. Bennett ran for the sheriff post, won, and then hired his brother-in-law as a deputy.

    "This was something that was just thrown on them after losing their jobs," said Carl Briscoe. "In these small communities, you didn't see any danger in being a police officer."

    Briscoe said his brother had no formal training because none was required.

    He said there's no way his brother could have ever been prepared for someone to come at him with a semi-automatic rifle.

    The morning of the shooting, Carl Briscoe recalls sitting at the barbershop, hearing sirens roar through Stanton and commenting that something terrible was happening somewhere.

    He had no idea his brother was in the middle of it until he got a call from his sister. He headed to the scene, but was told, when he reached the top of the hill, that his brother and Bennett were dead. He dropped to his knees and then he went back down the hill.

    "I didn't want to see them like that," he said.

    Members of the Bennett and Briscoe families sat through Baze's entire trial, Orville Bennett said. He described seeing the pictures of the scene and listening to the testimony as one of the hardest things he's ever done.

    The conviction was a relief, he and Briscoe said.

    "When they came back with a guilty verdict and the capital punishment … we were satisfied," Briscoe said. "Of course, we knew that it would be years before it would ever be carried out."

    He still hopes that Baze's execution might lessen some of his anger.

    "That's the only closure we're ever going to have," he said, "is to know that Ralph Baze has been put to death."

    Jean Bennett, Steve Bennett's sister, said she never expected 15 years to pass without an execution, and she never expected Baze to end up at the center of a case heard before the Supreme Court.

    "Why should he have any rights?" she asked. "He killed two people."

    Acceptance


    Baze says he's a born-again Christian who believes that God will end his life when it's the right time. He said he plans to fight through every legal option available to him but in the end will submit to whatever the penalty is.

    "If it comes down to executing me, I will calmly walk in there and allow them to execute me," he said. "There won't be no fights, there won't be no cussing, there won't be no name calling.

    "I submitted to it when I turned myself in. I took responsibility for my actions when I turned myself in to face the consequences."

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    October 17, 2008

    FRANKFORT — The state Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments on whether the state adopted its lethal injection protocol correctly and whether the 1993 trial of a man who killed two cops was held in the appropriate court.

    The two appeals — brought on behalf of Death Row inmates Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. and Ralph Baze — are some of the last remaining appeals for both men.

    Baze, who shot Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and deputy Arthur Briscoe, still has two other cases pending as does Bowling, who killed a Lexington couple outside of their dry-cleaning business in 1990.

    Public defenders for the two men argued Thursday that Kentucky's lethal injection protocol — or a step-by-step instruction on how to carry out lethal injections in Kentucky — should be declared void because it should have been adopted as an administrative procedure.

    If it was an administrative procedure, the protocol would have been subject to public comment and possibly a public hearing, but it was not. A lower court judge has previously ruled that the state adopted the protocols correctly.

    Attorneys with the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet argued Thursday that the General Assembly never intended for the lethal injection protocol to become an administrative regulation and subject to that type of scrutiny.

    John Cummings, an attorney for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said by making it an administrative regulation and subject to the rules of administrative regulation, it would open the Department of Corrections up to more litigation by inmates trying to challenge the death penalty.

    John Palombi, a public defender, said inmates and the public had the right to know what was in the protocol because the state was carrying out death sentences on behalf of the people of Kentucky.

    "We have no idea if the protocol is the same protocol that was approved by the (United States) Supreme Court," Palombi said during Thursday's hearing.

    In April, the United States Supreme Court decided 7-2 that Kentucky's lethal injection protocol did not violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The two cases heard Thursday were stayed last year until the U.S. Supreme Court made its decision in the landmark lethal injection case.

    Also on Thursday, justices heard arguments on whether Judge William Mains improperly transferred Baze's 1993 trial to Rowan County. Baze agreed to move the case to Franklin Circuit Court because of pretrial publicity.

    Mains was later appointed a special judge on the case and transferred the case to Rowan County.

    Baze argued that Mains did not have the authority to transfer the case and therefore his conviction should be overturned.

    Prosecutors argued that because Mains was appointed a special judge in the case he did have the authority to move the trial. Moreover, they argued, lawyers for Baze should have raised questions about the issue of jurisdiction on previous appeals.

    It is unclear when the state Supreme Court will issue an opinion on both cases.

    Dennis Briscoe, son of slain deputy Arthur Briscoe, sat with several fellow police officers during Thursday's hearing. The younger Briscoe, who is now a Winchester police officer, said he thinks the state Supreme Court will do the right thing. But Briscoe said he was tired of sitting through Baze's endless appeals.

    "Seventeen years is long enough and it is time for the state to carry out the execution," Briscoe said. "It is my hope that directly after the opinions are issued, an execution warrant will be sent to the governor for approval.

    (Source: The Lexington Herald-Leader)

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    November 26, 2008

    FRANKFORT, Ky. — A Kentucky death row inmate convicted of killing a sheriff and a deputy trying to arrest him has lost an appeal before the state Supreme Court.

    Kentucky’s high court ruled today that Ralph Baze’s trial, which took place in Rowan County, was held in the proper place. The 1992 crime was committed in Powell County, but the trial was moved to Rowan County.

    Baze’s attorney, assistant public advocate David Barron, said he had not finished reviewing the ruling and did not have an immediate comment.

    Baze was convicted of the shooting deaths of Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe, who were serving warrants on him.

    Baze had been scheduled for execution in September 2007, but the Supreme Court halted it because of the question over whether it was proper to move the trial.

    (Source: Courier-Journal.com)

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    January 29, 2009

    Man challenges definition of sanity for execution

    A condemned Kentucky inmate is challenging the state's definition of insanity and the process of determining if he's incompetent to be executed.

    Ralph Stevens Baze, 53, claims in a lawsuit that Kentucky's method of determining insanity is unconstitutional.

    Baze and his attorneys say the law doesn't allow doctors to consider if the inmate is delusional in determining if they have a rational understanding of why they are being executed.

    Baze's attorneys, public defenders David Barron and Dennis Burke, say Baze has recently become depressed and believes his attorneys are "out to get him," making efforts at having him executed and are conspiring with the Kentucky Attorney General's office to have the lethal injection carried out.

    Antidepressants have not stopped fits of anger and "incomprehensible" outbursts, Barron and Burke said in the lawsuit.

    Under Kentucky's law, a person is insane and incompetent to be executed if they do not understand that they are about to be executed and why they are being executed.

    Barron declined comment on Thursday. Kentucky Attorney General's spokeswoman Shelley Johnson also declined comment.

    The newest challenge, filed earlier this month in Franklin Circuit Court, says that standard doesn't pass constitutional muster, in part, because it too closely mirrors a Texas law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.

    In that case, involving convicted killer Scott Louis Panetti, the high court stopped his execution because no court had considered whether the former ranch hand had a rational understanding of why he was to be killed.

    The Texas procedures didn't allow an outside expert to examine the condemned inmate to see if he was delusional. Barron and Burke say Kentucky's law is almost identical.

    "It will result in competency to be executed determinations being made solely on the basis of the examinations performed by state-appointed psychiatrists," Barron and Burke said in the suit.

    The challenge comes as Baze awaits the outcome of two appeals pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

    In one, he has asked the court to reconsider whether his trial in the shooting deaths of Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe in 1992 was improperly moved. In the other case, he's awaiting the court's decision about whether Kentucky should hold public hearings on its execution protocol after it changed how a lethal injection is administered.

    Baze was the inmate at the center of a challenge to Kentucky's lethal injection protocol ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. The high court rejected Baze's challenge, but the case prompted a de facto moratorium on executions while it was considered.

    Kentucky altered its lethal injection protocol while Baze's case was working its way through the courts.

    (Source: The Fort Mill Times)

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