Virginia inmate facing execution argues against drug 'cocktail'

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[January 18, 2017]  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Virginia inmate set to be executed on Wednesday for murdering two young sisters during a 2006 killing spree has asked the Supreme Court for a stay, arguing that the first-ever use of compounded lethal drugs violates his constitutional rights.

Ricky Gray, 39, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday evening at the Greensville Correctional Center if the U.S. high court turns down his bid for a stay.

Gray's lawyers filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying that the three-drug combination could cause Gray unnecessary suffering and thereby violate constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment.

The execution would mark the first time a U.S. state has used two of the drugs - midazolam and potassium chloride - provided by a compounding pharmacy, according to the court filing.

Gray's lawyers argue that compounding pharmacies typically follow an informal recipe attempting to approximate the patented process approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Midazolam is an anesthetic and potassium chloride stops the heart. The third drug in the so-called cocktail, rocuronium bromide, causes paralysis

Gray's attorneys say that midazolam has already failed to render prisoners unconscious during executions in Alabama, Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have stopped making some drugs available for use in executions, and Virginia state law allows the vendor's identity to remain secret.

Arizona last month reached a settlement with lawyers for death row inmates that would bar midazolam from use in executions.

Gray was sentenced to die for the 2006 slayings of sisters Ruby Harvey, 4, and Stella Harvey, 9, in Richmond. He also killed their parents, Bryan Harvey, 49, and Kathryn Harvey, 39.

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Death row inmate Ricky Gray is shown in this undated photo released in Washington, DC, U.S. in 2016. Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

His accomplice, Ray Dandridge, was sentenced to life. The pair also killed Ashley Baskerville, 21, who had been a lookout when Gray killed the Harveys as well as her mother, Mary Tucker, 47, and stepfather Percyell Tucker, 55.

Gray has said he is willing to die by firing squad, which is not an option for executions in Virginia.

If carried out, the execution will be second in the United States this year. The United States has executed 1,453 people since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson, editing by G Crosse)

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