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Late-night ruling reinstates Alabama execution, but officials cancel it after problems inserting IV lines

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The Supreme Court late Thursday night overturned a lower court’s ruling and allowed Alabama to proceed with its plan to carry out an execution, but state prison officials were unable to kill the man before his death warrant expired at midnight.

Shortly after the court issued its brief order around 11:20 p.m. EST, Alabama officials attempted to carry out a lethal injection of Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted of a 1988 murder-for-hire. But they called off the execution when they had problems inserting intravenous lines to administer the lethal drugs.

It was the second time since September that Alabama began an execution only to cancel it midway through the procedure due to problems accessing the prisoner’s veins.

Smith’s legal team argued that the state’s recent history of problems with IV lines — including an alleged “cutdown” procedure in which officials sliced into a prisoner’s arm during an execution — created a risk of intolerable pain that would violate the Eighth Amendment. Based on those arguments, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Thursday put Smith’s execution on hold, prompting the state to file an emergency appeal at the Supreme Court on Thursday night seeking to reinstate the execution before midnight central time.

The Supreme Court granted Alabama’s request, with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson noting dissents.

Earlier this week, the court rejected a separate argument from Smith that his execution should be put on hold because the judge at his trial sentenced him to death despite the jury voting 11-1 to recommend life in prison without parole.

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