This case challenges the legality of Montana’s lethal injection protocol. A September 2012 ruling by District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock decided that Montana’s lethal injection protocol is unlawful. In response, a new two-drug lethal injection execution protocol was written--solely by Department of Corrections staff without consultation with scientific or medical experts. We responded by challenging this protocol. In 2014, Judge Sherlock ruled that the issue of whether pentobarbital meets the definition of ‘ultra-fast-acting barbiturate’ had to go to trial. After several delays, the case eventually went to trial in late 2015. Judge Sherlock ruled that pentobarbital does not meet that definition of an ultra-fast acting barbiturate and enjoined the state from using it in its lethal injection protocol. The Court noted that “[s]crupulous adherence to statutory mandates is especially important here given the gravity of the death penalty.” The State has had multiple opportunities to correct the problems with the death penalty protocol. And each time they came up with a new flawed procedure. As a result of this lawsuit, there is a de-facto moratorium on the death penalty in Montana.

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Jon Ellingson, Anna Conley

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Ron Waterman and Julie Johnson (Gough, Shanahan, Johnson and Waterman, Helena) Greg Jackson (Helena)

Date filed

July 12, 2013


Montana First Judicial Office, Lewis & Clark County


Jeffrey Sherlock

Case number