Virginia sued over lethal injections

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"In almost all cases, there are lethal injection challenges accompanying appeals as these executions get close," Dieter said.

No executions are scheduled at this time in Virginia, which has executed more people than any state except Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Dieter said the federal government and all 34 death penalty states use lethal injection, although some have other methods available as backup.

In Virginia, condemned inmates are allowed to choose between injection and electrocution.

If they decline to choose, they get the injection. The administration of those intravenous drugs by unlicensed personnel has been problematic, according to the complaint filed by Shapiro and Leibig.

"They have no idea what they're doing," Shapiro said in a written statement.

The lawyers claim that along with failing to determine whether a prisoner is unconscious before administering the lethal drugs, Virginia's executioners have administered recalled drugs, misused a drug for general anesthesia and made mistakes in paperwork documenting the handling and administration of chemicals.

Execution teams also have spent substantial time during training sessions planning barbecues, picnics and other events, the filing says.

Stephen A. Northup, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said Virginians "should be concerned, if not shocked" by the allegations. No hearing date has been set.

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