By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court has rejected a Georgia death row inmate's motion that his scheduled Tuesday execution by lethal injection be halted and that he be put to death instead by a firing squad, which his lawyers said would be less painful for him.
J.W. Ledford, 45, has spent about a quarter century on death row after being convicted of the 1992 robbery and murder of a doctor who lived near him. He was scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m. (2300 GMT).
Lawyers for Ledford said he wanted to be executed by firing squad because a drug he takes for nerve pain would lead to an “excruciating death” under Georgia’s lethal injection protocol.
Georgia uses a single drug, pentobarbital, and does not have provisions for death by firing squad. The drug has been used in dozens of executions without major incident.
The last inmate executed by firing squad in the United States was Ronnie Gardner, who was put to death in Utah in 2010, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday denied Ledford's appeal after lawyers for Georgia said it was a delaying tactic and should be rejected because it relied on speculative allegations.
Ledford’s attorneys said in their filing last week that years of taking a drug for nerve pain changed his brain chemistry, which meant pentobarbital would not reliably render him unconscious and insensate. They said its use would violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
"The Georgia legislature is free, within the parameters established by the United States Constitution, to choose the method of execution it deems appropriate," a three-judge appellate court panel said in the decision.
The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a request from Ledford's lawyers to halt the execution.
Ledford was 20 when he robbed and cut the throat of Harry Johnston, then 73, in northern Murray County, a court synopsis of the case said.
If the execution goes ahead, it would be the 11th in the United States this year and the 70th in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
(Reporting by David Beasley; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Bernard Orr and Peter Cooney)