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Supreme Court Upholds Use Of Controversial Lethal Injection Drug

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of a controversial drug that has been implicated in several delayed executions.

The justices on Monday voted 5-4 in a case from Oklahoma that the sedative midazolam can be used in executions without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Supreme Court opinion

The drug was used in executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma in 2014 that took longer than usual and raised concerns that it did not perform its intended task of putting inmates into a coma-like sleep.

In the Oklahoma case, Clayton Lockett took over 40 minutes to die.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt argued the state had done its homework . But Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the use of the paralytic might render midazolam ineffective, and it would be impossible to know whether the inmate was conscious and could feel pain. That is the very argument for the attorneys representing the death row inmates.

Death row inmates and their attorneys argued the drug cocktail is experimental.

Investigations showed Lockett's vein burst during the execution process. The drugs went into his tissue not his veins, and he died of a massive heart attack, according to the follow-up investigations.

The state revised execution protocols after Lockett's death in April, 2014. New protocols called for expanded training for personnel administering drugs and to increase the drug dosages in the cocktail.

The state has made it law that nitrogen hypoxia could now be used for executions.