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Joseph Wood was executed in Arizona yesterday. It took two hours to kill him. The execution was not halted, even though he repeatedly gasped and snorted during it.
An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution saw Wood start gasping shortly after a sedative and a pain killer were injected into his veins. He gasped more than 600 times over the next hour and 40 minutes.
Most disgusting comment, from a relative of the victim named Richard Brown:
Why didn't we give him Drano?
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The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the execution of Arizona inmate Joseph Wood. The Court says he has a First Amendment right to know the details of the two-drug cocktail the state intends to use in killing him and the qualifications of the personnel who will administer them.
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A federal judge in California has ruled California's death penalty system is unconstitutional. He says a death sentence in California is nothing but a penalty of "life with the remote possibility of death." The opinion is here. Since the penalty is so rarely carried out (no one has been executed since 2006), "the death penalty is about as effective a deterrent to capital crime as ther /> possibility of a lightning strike is to going outside in the rain."
This is a problem that has festered in California for years. A major problem, as the judge notes in yesterday's opinion, is California's refusal to adequately fund lawyers. While many media articles briefly mention this, it is a significant part of the judge's decision. [More...]
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The Georgia Supreme Court yesterday ruled its state law allowing anonymity for the makers of execution drugs, pharmacists and other personnel involved in executions is constitutional. A lower court had previously declared the law. unconstitutional.
From the opinion:
This case presents the question of whether it is unconstitutional for the State of Georgia to maintain the confidentiality of the names and other identifying information of the persons and entities involved in executions, including those who manufacture the drug or drugs to be used.
We hold that it is not, and we reverse the ruling of the Superior Court of Fulton County in which it granted an interlocutory injunction prohibiting the execution of Warren Lee Hill with a drug from a confidential source in order to consider that question.
As to why it's okay, check out this flippant statement:
“Particularly unpersuasive is Hill’s expert’s testimony that certain contaminants also could have the following effect: ‘Their blood pressure would drop precipitously, and ultimately it’s possible that they could die.'
“Such a side effect obviously would be shockingly undesirable in the practice of medicine, but it is certainly not a worry in an execution.”
Who is Warren Lee Hill? A mentally deficient death row inmate who challenged the law. [More...]
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Update: The full 8th Circuit reversed the panel decision and reinstated the execution. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito stepped up and issued a stay pending a further order by him or the Court. His stay order is here.
Update: The 8th Circuit has stayed the execution.
Via the Atlantic: Andrew Cohen writes that Russell Bucklew, scheduled for execution in Missouri tomorrow, is likely to be the next death penalty disaster for the U.S. That's because Bucklew has serious health issues.
According to the testimony of Dr. Joel Zivot, a defense expert witness in the case, Bucklew "has a tumor growing in his face, occupying the nose, throat, and airway passages and causing him to experience constant facial pain and pressure as well as constant difficultly breathing." The congenital cavernous hemangioma, the doctor asserts, "results in a significant and dangerous compromise" of Bucklew's airways.
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Robert Patton, Director of Oklahoma's Department of Corrections, has written a letter (available here) to the Governor with a timeline of events in the botched execution of Robert Lockett earlier this week.
First, the executioners spent 51 minutes trying to find a suitable vein in Lockett's arm. When they couldn't, they inserted an IV tap into his groin. [More...]
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Update: The execution was botched and halted, but the inmate then had a heart attack and died. The execution of the second inmate was postponed.
Despite the controversy over lethal injection drugs, Oklahoma will proceed tonight to kill two inmates. The federal defender for one of them says:
“Tonight, in a climate of secrecy and political posturing, Oklahoma intends to kill two death row prisoners using an experimental new drug protocol, including a paralytic, making it impossible to know whether the executions will comport with the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual suffering...We have serious questions — were these drugs imported, are they counterfeit, what is the expiration date, are they tainted?”
Oklahoma's new drug protocol has not yet been tested. One of the drugs, the one that sedates and reduces pain, will be given in a much smaller amount that provided by another state that uses the same drug in its death cocktail.
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A new Pew Report shows support for the death penalty for convicted murderers has dropped to 55%, the lowest level since the 1970's. Among the reasons:
...a steep drop in the incidence of violent crime, and greater attention to wrongful convictions, which has led to more than 1,300 convicts being exonerated through DNA evidence, revelations of faulty forensic work, or other means. (Recent reports of prolonged executions and the difficulties many states have had in procuring drugs for lethal injections also may be factors in shifting public opinion.)
Since 1973, the U.S. has executed 1,373 people. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 1,339 people have been exonerated since 1989, 106 of whom were sentenced to death. Only 1/3 of the exonerations involved DNA evidence.
All but two of the executions were at the state level. The highest number of executions: Texas, with 512. After that: Virginia and Oklahoma (110 each), and then Florida, Missouri and Alabama.
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There's a big fight going on in Oklahoma over the scarcity of execution drugs and the use of substitute drugs. Oklahoma is running short on two of the three drugs in its death cocktail and the Court just delayed two executions set for April.
Katie Fretland, writing in Colorado's The Independent, has an excellent report on this. She also made a FOIA request for Oklahoma records. Among other things, the records she received show executioners had injected leftover drugs into the corpses of the executed inmates to dispose of the drugs.
Convicts executed in Oklahoma have in some cases died from overdoses of pentobarbital or sodium thiopental, the anesthetic, rather than the second and third injections in the three-drug cocktail, according to documents obtained by The Independent. Records show executioners then injected the remaining two drugs into convicts’ dead bodies for what forms turned over in response to an open-records request refer to as “disposal purposes.”
Jerry Massie, the spokesman for the prison system, defended the practice, saying it follows state protocol.
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Texas death row prison guards at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, TX are calling for an end to solitary confinement and more humane conditions for death row inmates:
Staff leaders say years of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation literally drive inmates mad and make them more likely to wound the guards, riot or attempt escape.
The guards want inmates to be able to share two to a cell and use an iPad or similar computer tablet to watch television on a secure internal network as incentives for good behaviour.
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Washington Governor Jay Inslee today suspended the use of the death penalty in the state for the duration of his term.
"There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment, there are too many flaws in this system today," Inslee said at a news conference. "There is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system."
The decision is part of a growing trend.
Last year, Maryland abolished the death penalty, the 18th state to do so and the sixth in the last six years.
More from Inslee: [More...]
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Ohio's experiment with a new execution cocktail didn't go very well:
Dennis McGuire struggled, repeatedly gasping loudly for air and making snorting and choking sounds, before succumbing to a new two-drug execution method today.
The 24-minute execution process was a “failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio,” said one of the killer’s attorneys, Allen Bohnert, a federal public defender. “The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled by what was done in their name.”
This is not Ohio's first botched execution. [More...]
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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi requested an execution be continued to accommodate her re-election campaign. She was scheduled to attend a fundraiser kicking off her re-election campaign. Gov. Scott accommodated her request, not knowing the reason.
[Marshall Lee]Gore was initially scheduled for execution in June, but the date was twice delayed because of legal skirmishes over Gore's sanity.
After Gov. Scott last month rescheduled the execution for Sept. 10, the date of Bondi's "hometown campaign kickoff" at her South Tampa home, Bondi's office asked that it be postponed. The new date is Oct. 1.
The relatives of the victims were not pleased. Also, as AG, Bondi has been fighting challenges to Florida's 2013 "Timely Justice Act" to speed up executions.
After much just criticism, Bondi apologized today, calling the request a mistake. [More...]
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Billy Slagle has been on death row since his murder conviction in 1988. He was 18 at the time of the crime. His execution date was set for Tuesday. This morning, he was found hanged in his cell. He was in solitary confinement.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors joined Slagle's family in asking for a reprieve, urging [Gov. John]Kasich to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole -- a sentence the prosecutor's office said had not been available at the time.
Gov. Kasich denied the request on July 24.
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A federal jury in Virginia has rejected the Government's request for the death penalty in the case of the three remaining Somali pirates charged with killing Americans on their sailboat 40 miles off the coast of Somalia.
Under federal law, a sentence to death must be unanimous. In this case, one juror held out for life on one defendant, while two jurors felt life was appropriate for the other two.
Originally, there were 19 pirates on board when the shootings occurred. [More...]
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