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Trial delayed at least a year in case challenging Louisiana's lethal injection method

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Louisiana's next scheduled execution has been stalled for at least another year.

U.S. District Judge James Brady agreed Tuesday to the state's request to delay a trial about the constitutionality of Louisiana's execution protocol. A new status conference in the lawsuit was set for July 11, 2016, to set a trial date.

Lawyers for the state penitentiary and Department of Corrections asked for the postponement, writing in their request that "the facts and issues that are involved in this proceeding continue to be in a fluid state, meaning that it would be a waste of resources and time to litigate this matter at present."

The lethal injection planned for Christopher Sepulvado, convicted of murdering his 6-year-old stepson in 1992, has been on hold since February 2014, amid a federal lawsuit challenging Louisiana's execution protocol.

The state's method of lethal injection has changed as the drugs used in executions have become more difficult to acquire, and it's unclear if Louisiana currently has the drugs on hand to carry out an execution.

A spokeswoman for the corrections department didn't immediately respond Tuesday to a request seeking more information about why the state sought the delay.

Gary Clements, director of the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana and attorney for Sepulvado, said the move did not come as a surprise.

"Part of me was not surprised because I don't even know if they have the drugs to carry out an execution," Clements said of the state. "It's my understanding that they don't really know what they intend to do or the course they wish to go through. Some states have a difficulty putting their hands on specific lethal injection drugs. I think that may be what's going on here."

Clements said he had not yet spoken with his client to discuss the latest ruling.

Louisiana has tried to keep its execution drug information hidden, saying that if state officials identify how they're getting the drugs, they could have trouble buying more because companies don't want to be known as helping in an execution.

But Brady has ordered the state to provide Sepulvado and his lawyers with information about the seller and maker of the lethal injection drugs the state intends to use, a ruling upheld by an appeals court.

Louisiana's last execution in 2010 used three chemicals, but sodium thiopental, a key anesthetic in the process, became impossible for the corrections department to obtain. Prison officials then planned to use pentobarbital, a powerful sedative, as the single lethal injection drug, but the corrections department had trouble buying it.

In January 2014, the state announced a new execution protocol that would use a two-drug combination. It includes the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.


Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson contributed to this report from New Orleans.

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