Tennessee death row inmate Edward Jerome Harbison will not be executed Jan. 9 as scheduled, according to an order issued this morning by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The order ensures Harbison will not be put to death before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a lethal injection case out of Kentucky this spring. In that case, the inmate is challenging the constitutionality of the three-drug cocktail used by most states—including Tennessee—in performing lethal injections.
Earlier this year Haribson raised that same claim
, and U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger barred Tennessee
from using the current method of execution, calling it cruel and unusual. The state is appealing Trauger's ruling to the 6th Circuit, which today decided the appeal will have to wait.
Although the appellate court order gives Harbison a reprieve at least until the spring, it's unclear if the cases of two other death row inmates will be temporarily halted as well. The execution of Pervis Payne currently is set for Dec. 12, and Paul Dennis Reid is scheduled to die Jan. 3.
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William C. Koch Jr. and several state lawmakers have voiced their belief that these inmates should instead be put to death by electrocution while the constitutionality of lethal injection is debated in federal courts.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay of execution to a Mississippi prisoner, suggesting that even if states attempt to proceed with executions, the high court might prevent further state killings until it rules on the current method of lethal injection.