At least three Death Row inmates could be nearing execution as Kentucky moves toward a new lethal injection method.
Execution requests for two of the condemned men were made to the governor's office in 2010, but a judge barred the state from carrying out any executions until it switched to something other than a three-drug lethal injection method.
The state has revamped its method and now must go before Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd to ask for the suspension to be lifted. Until then, the governor can't take any action toward carrying out a death sentence.
Requests have already been made to execute Robert Karl Foley, 56, convicted of six murders in Madison and Laurel counties, and Ralph S. Baze, 57, condemned for shooting and killing a sheriff and deputy in 1992.
Also, 51-year-old Benny Lee Hodge's appeals based on the trial record have run out in the August 1985 slaying of Tammy Acker, whose father was robbed of $1.9 million in Fleming-Neon in Eastern Kentucky.
Kentucky is implementing lethal injection by one or two drugs, depending upon their availability. The change, which takes effect Friday, brings Kentucky in line with at least seven states using the single-drug execution protocol.
Should Shepherd allow executions to go forward, the state can then begin reviewing cases and purchasing the necessary drugs. A public records request in January by The Associated Press showed that Kentucky had not yet purchased the drugs needed.
"Therefore, no further action will be taken regarding case review or dates for executions or acquiring drugs until that injunction is lifted," said Beshear's spokeswoman, Kerri Richardson.
The revised regulations specify that doses of the drug used in the one-drug execution — 3 grams of sodium thiopental or 5 grams of pentobarbital — be repeated if the inmate has not died within 10 minutes.
In a two-drug execution, the warden may authorize continued injections of 60 milligrams of hydromorphone until the inmate dies. Kentucky previously used sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
Shepherd's ruling halting all lethal injections came as the state prepared to execute Gregory L. Wilson, 56, for the 1987 rape, kidnapping and murder of 36-year-old Debbie Pooley in Kenton County. Wilson has since won a hearing in state court on whether he is mentally disabled and ineligible for execution.
Public defender David Barron, who represents several Death Row inmates, said he plans to challenge the new method.
Kentucky has executed three men at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, the last one in November 2008.
The Rev. Pat Delahanty of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty hopes Beshear will go slowly and consider documented problems with capital punishment in Kentucky. Delahanty said there shouldn't be any rush to execute inmates.
"Nobody's going anywhere," Delahanty said. "These guys are in prison and they're being punished."
Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders, who has prosecuted two death penalty cases, said executions should be carried out because jurors take their jobs very seriously and recognize the gravity of a death sentence.
"It's ridiculous that flawed execution protocols brought the wheels of justice to a halt," he said.
Some inmates on Death Row are following the developments in the state's push to reinstate executions, said William Meece, who is contesting his death sentence for three slayings in 1993 in Adair County.
"Of course, some guys talk about executions — after all, there are unsigned warrants for Bob Foley and Ralph Baze and several others in line," Meece wrote in a letter to The Associated Press.
And the uncertainty leaves the families of victims wondering what to expect.
Rose Bennett, the widow of the late Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and sister of deputy Arthur Briscoe who were shot to death by Baze, wants the execution carried out, but doesn't plan to attend.
"I'll be glad when the chapter on Ralph Baze is closed," Rose Bennett said. "I don't need to see that man die. I don't have to see his eyes close."