The Supreme Court issued a stay of execution yesterday for Christopher Scott Emmett, four hours before the Virginia inmate was scheduled to die. Observers say the move signals a de facto moratorium on executions, as the court considers the legality of lethal injection. One expert called it “the most profound hiatus in the death penalty in at least two decades.”
The court has now halted two executions since agreeing to hear Baze v. Rees, which challenges lethal injection as a cruel and unusual punishment. The traditional four-drug cocktail might cause great pain, the Washington Post reports, but render the victim unable to express it. Of the 38 states that use the death penalty, all save Nebraska use lethal injection.