Circuit court blocks state execution
Panel grants stay for prisoner with cancer, cites pending case in Kentucky
By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press Writer
MOBILE — A federal appeals court Wednesday granted a stay of execution for Daniel Lee Siebert, a terminally ill killer who claimed that his cancer medication would counteract with a lethal injection, inflicting unnecessary pain.
In granting the stay, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta reversed an order by U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller in Montgomery.
In its brief order, the panel noted that Alabama has made a minor change to its execution protocol and that Siebert would be the first to experience that change. The panel said it halted the execution until the U.S. Supreme Court hears a lethal injection challenge from Kentucky.
After the Kentucky case is decided, the district court in Montgomery must reconsider its decision based on any guidance from the high court, the 11th Circuit ruled.
The state's attorney, Clay Crenshaw, said he will ask the full 11th Circuit to rehear the stay request. Siebert's attorney did not immediately return a phone message for comment.
Siebert, 53, who has been on Alabama's death row for more than 20 years and has terminal pancreatic cancer, was facing lethal injection Thursday at Holman prison near Atmore.
Siebert was condemned for the Feb. 19, 1986 strangulation deaths of Sherri Weathers, 24, and her two sons, 5-year-old Chad and 4-year-old Joey at their Talladega apartment. He was also convicted separately of capital murder and sentenced to death for the slaying of Linda Jarman, a neighbor of Weathers, who was killed the same night.
Siebert's case appeared headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, which already has agreed to hear a lethal injection challenge from Kentucky. Siebert's attorney, Thomas M. Goggans of Montgomery, also sought a delay until there's a ruling in the Kentucky case — a request opposed by the Alabama attorney general's office.
Crenshaw, an assistant attorney general and the state's capital punishment chief, told the 11th Circuit in a filing Wednesday that Siebert's claim about his cancer medication possibly counteracting with a three-drug cocktail used in the execution was never supported by evidence.
Alabama ensures that the inmate is unconscious by administering a lethal dose of sodium thiopental, according to the court filing, and potassium chloride stops the heart.
Siebert argues the mix of drugs would likely result in an unacceptable risk of unnecessary pain in violation of the protections against cruel and unusual punishment found in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"Siebert's speculative Eighth Amendment claim pales in comparison to the interest the general public has in the orderly administration of justice," Crenshaw told the 11th Circuit. "Put simply, the public has an interest in seeing Siebert held accountable for his horrific crime."
Siebert's attorney submitted a letter from an oncologist, Dr. Jimmie Harvey of Birmingham, that says "complications could arise" from the drug combinations. Harvey speculates that Siebert could regurgitate his stomach contents during an execution and that he might have compromised veins.
Crenshaw said Harvey's opinion should not be considered. There is no indication that he examined Siebert or that any of Siebert's extensive medical records support that conclusion, Crenshaw wrote.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!