Updated June 28, 2021 - 8:04 pm
A federal judge issued a stay of execution Monday for death row inmate Zane Floyd, who was sentenced to die for fatally shooting four people more than two decades ago in a Las Vegas grocery store.
U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware issued the order after a roughly five-hour hearing in Las Vegas. His ruling prevents the state from moving forward with the execution before the week of Oct. 18. Prosecutors had sought to have Floyd killed at the end of July.
The decision comes less than three weeks after the Nevada Department of Corrections revealed what drugs were planned for a lethal injection cocktail in Floyd’s execution.
“Even for individuals who have been condemned to execution by the state, fundamental due process and fairness is required to have an adequate amount of time to be able to investigate the method by which the state intends to take his life,” Boulware said.
Floyd, now 45, shot and killed four employees and gravely wounded another inside an Albertsons on West Sahara Avenue in June 1999. He also was convicted of repeatedly raping a woman before the shooting.
Boulware pointed out that prison officials had at least three months to develop a protocol for Floyd’s capital punishment after Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson announced in March that he would seek a warrant of execution. Wolfson did not respond to a request for comment on the judge’s decision.
Floyd’s lawyers had laid out a plan that calls in part for testimony from medical experts and prison leaders regarding the proposed drugs and the details of a possible execution.
“We’re very pleased that we’re going to have an opportunity to litigate the state’s novel and untested and experimental protocol,” Assistant Federal Public Defender David Anthony said.
The prison system’s plan details the sequence and dosage for an injection of painkillers fentanyl or alfentanil, “depending on availability;” ketamine, an anesthetic; cisatracurium, a paralytic; and heart-stopping potassium chloride or potassium acetate, “depending on availability.”
Boulware noted that such a potentially fatal cocktail has never been tested in the country. No one has been executed in Nevada since 2006.
Late last week, lawyers for the makers of ketamine sent a cease-and-desist letter to Attorney General Aaron Ford, whose office represents the prison system, demanding that the state return 50 vials of the drug.
Floyd’s lawyers have argued that ketamine could cause “excessive secretions from the mouth” and vomiting and lead to a burning sensation in Floyd’s veins and lungs.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Randall Gilmer argued in part that Floyd’s lawyers did not cite any medical or scientific evidence showing that the proposed drugs would result in a painful execution.
“They have provided zero stitch of even WebMD to their position as to why this protocol is bad and why this protocol would cause unconstitutional pain and suffering,” Gilmer said.
In court papers, Gilmer provided statements from doctors outside the prison system, including one who stated that the execution protocol was “likely to cause a death without significant pain or suffering.”
Gilmer asked the judge to include what’s known as a “certificate of appealability” along with his written order, which would allow the attorney general’s office to contest the decision through a higher court.
Floyd’s lawyers previously detailed the steps they wanted to take after the issuance of a stay. They asked for an inspection of Ely State Prison, where the execution would take place, along with a four-day hearing with testimony from expert witnesses in early October.
“The Nevada Department of Corrections has had 2½ to three months to formulate this protocol,” Anthony said. “We should have the same amount of time to litigate the protocol that they had to create it.”
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