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US prisoner challenges lethal execution drug

Attorneys of a convicted killer in the US have argued that lethal injection would be unnecessarily painful and thus illegal. An EU ban on lethal drugs used in executions has complicated capital punishment in the US.

The US state of Virginia had been planning to execute 49-year-old Alfredo Prieto at 9 p.m. Thursday (0100 UTC Friday) at the Greensville Correctional Center, but it's not clear whether the death sentence will be carried out.

That's because a federal judge in Virginia ordered a temporary halt to the execution so a hearing could be held about one of the drugs that would be used to put him to death.

Prieto's attorneys asked the court to delay the execution until state officials disclose more information about the supply of pentobarbital they received from Texas, saying they're concerned about the quality of the drugs and whether they would bring Prieto "gratuitous and unnecessary pain."

The El Salvador native was on death row in California for raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl when DNA evidence linked him to the rape and murder of Rachael Raver and the slaying of her boyfriend, Warren Fulton III in 1988.

Authorities have linked Prieto to several other killings but he was never prosecuted because he had already been sentenced to death.

Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring's office urged the judge to dismiss Prieto's case, noting that Texas has used the same drugs without any problems in 24 executions over the past two years. Further delaying Prieto's execution and allowing him to "fully indulge his speculations" could prolong the case past the drug's expiration date.

States scramble following EU ban

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After running out of supplies of pentobarbital, some US states have obtained the lethal injection drug from compound pharmacies or are experimenting with untested drug combos.

Shortages of lethal injection drugs in the US are largely due to the European Union having banned the export of such products in 2005 as part of its goal to abolish capital punishment.

The EU banned selling pentrobarbital and other lethal injection drugs in 2011.

Prieto's lawyers have also appealed to the US Supreme Court to allow time for state and federal courts in California to rule on his claim that he is intellectually disabled. He has an IQ of 66, well below the average range.

The execution would be the first in Virginia since January 2013. The state has carried out 110 executions since the US controversially reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

jar/kms (AP, Reuters)

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