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Supreme Court Hearing Oral Arguments in Baze Lethal Injection Case

I'm listening to the Supreme Court oral arguments in the Baze lethal injection case (Baze v. Rees (07-5439.) Justice Stevens is questioning the lawyer for the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Justice Stevens just asked the lawyer for Kentucky about why veternarians won't even use the procedure on dogs. (Background, You Wouldn't Do a Dog This Way.) Justice Roberts jumped in and the KY lawyer said if you drop the first drug, which they've done, it's all fine and good.

Justice Stevens says he's concerned the second drug is also problematic.

Justice Ginsberg asks why they pick non-professional people to administer the drugs. (Doctors and nurses are banned. )

Sentencing Law and Policy has been following the case closely. How Appealing has gathering of news articles.

Here's an article on the lawyers arguing the case. The defense lawyer is a 29 year old public defender. [More...]

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Interview With a Virginia Executioner

Meet Jerry Givens, former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, with 62 state-sponsored killings under his belt. As he tells ABC News, he's sorry now and he has come to oppose capital punishment.

As the state's chief executioner, Givens pushed the buttons that administered lethal doses of electricity to the condemned. He could even choose how many volts to administer. And he is the first to admit that it was largely guesswork.

"If he was a small guy, I didn't give that much. You try not to cook the body, you know. I hate to sound gross,'' he told ABC News in a rare interview.

Givens has no formal medical training. although he once took a first aid course. He was given on the job training by his counterparts in Texas.

Among the reasons he's now opposed to the death penalty:

After the death penalty was reinstated in Virginia, Givens noted, ruefully, "crime went up.''

Givens' real doubts began with the number of wrongful convictions. He says: [More...]

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Dyslexic Execution MD Worked for Feds, Not Just Missouri

Remember Dr. Alan R. Doerhoff of Jefferson City, Mo? He's the dyslexic physician who administered the doses of chemicals during state executions and previously admitted "sometimes giving inmates smaller amounts of anesthesia than the state had said was its policy."

Turns out Dr. Doerhoff has also been working on federal executions at the Death House in Terre Haute, IN.

The doctor barred by a federal judge from performing executions in Missouri is part of the federal government's secret execution team at its death chamber in Indiana, according to court documents filed in a death penalty appeal.

When Dr. Doerhoff testified before the federal court that banned his participation in state executions in June, 2006, the media didn't report his name. That changed a month later.

The Post-Dispatch reported his name the following month and revealed that he had been sued for malpractice more than 20 times, denied staff privileges by two hospitals and reprimanded by the state Board of Healing Arts for failing to disclose the lawsuits to a hospital where he was treating patients.

A lawsuit filed by six federal death row inmates two months ago alleges Dr. Doerhoff is now a member of the Terre Haute execution team:

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Calif. Judge Tosses New Lethal Injection Plan

Another blow for the death penalty in California yesterday:

California's stalled death penalty plunged deeper into disarray Wednesday when a judge tossed out the state's new lethal injection method. The judge's ruling added to the growing uncertainty over the status of capital punishment in the state.

Marin County Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor invalidated the state's new procedure because state prison officials failed to treat the new execution method as a new state regulation, which mandates public comment among other requirements.

There are 667 persons on Death Row in California. Executions have been on hold since January, 2006 when federal judge Stanley Vogel ruled California could not use licensed medical professionals to carry out the execution.

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Supreme Court Stays Mississippi Execution

Capital punishment watchers have been anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court's action on the execution of Earl W. Berry, scheduled for tonight in Mississippi.

With 15 minutes to spare, the Court has stayed the execution. The vote was 7 to 2. Scalia and Alito dissented.

Is this a signal that the Court will find lethal injections to be cruel and unusual punishment when it decides the Kentucky case it has agreed to review?

ABC News has more, as does Capital Defense Weekly and Scotus Blog.

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Va. Man Seeks Stay of Execution Set for Tonight

Update: The Supreme Court halted the execution.

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Christopher Scott Emmett is scheduled for execution in Virginia tonight. His lawyers are seeking a last minute stay from the Supreme Court based upon the lethal injection procedure. The state is resisting.

This would be Emmett's second stay. The first was granted two hours before his scheduled execution in June.

Monday night, a Nevada execution was halted. In that case the inmate wanted to die.

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Florida Court Considers "Shake and Shout" Execution Procedure

As the Supreme Court considers whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, Florida, whose procedures have also come under state challenge (background here, here and here) has also been holding hearings.

Florida's leading death penalty case, Lightbourne, didn't focus on the lethal cocktail he'll likely be shot up with but the records and abilities of the lethal-injectors themselves -- an issue that came to the fore with the Department of Corrections' botched execution of Miami killer Angel Diaz, who took 34 minutes to die on Dec. 13.

Florida's Department of Corrections made some changes after the Diaz execution. Check out the "Shake and Shout" procedure the states' attorney is defending:

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TX Judge Closes Courthouse, Prevents Death Appeal

Hours after the Supreme Court granted cert on the issue of whether Kentucky's lethal injection procedures constituted cruel and unusual punishment, Judge Sharon Keller in Texas, without consulting the other judges, closed the criminal courts at 5:00 pm.

As a result, Michael Richard's attorneys were unable to file for a stay of execution. Richard was executed that night.

Cheryl Johnson, the Judge assigned to handle any late minute motions in Richard's case is angry.

"If I'm in charge of the execution, I ought to have known about those things, and I ought to have been asked whether I was willing to stay late and accept those filings."

Johnson said her first reaction was "utter dismay." Johnson said she would have accepted the brief for consideration by the court. "Sure," she said. "I mean, this is a death case."

There were judges in the courthouse at the time Keller closed it.

Three judges were working late in the courthouse that evening, and others were available by phone if needed, court personnel said.

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Amnesty Int'l Chronicles U.S. Execution Horrors

Amnesty International has released a report tracking the botched executions in the U.S.

"The use of lethal injections in the US has led to at least nine bungled executions, including one in which the prisoner took 69 minutes to die and another in which the condemned man complained five times: "It don't work," a report by Amnesty International says today.

The report contains a catalogue of botched executions dating from 2000, when lethal injection was adopted by 37 of the 38 US states with the death penalty."

As to Texas:

Amnesty notes that Texas, which operates America's busiest execution chamber, has banned one of the chemicals involved for use in euthanising pets, because it does not effectively mask pain.

In other words, you wouldn't do a dog this way.

Yesterday, a Tyler, TX judge set a Nov. 6 execution date for Allen Bridgers.

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Federal Judge Rules Tenn. Death Penalty Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Tennessee has ruled the state's death penalty amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The protocol "presents a substantial risk of unnecessary pain" and violates inmate Edward Jerome Harbison's constitutional protections, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger said.

The new protocol, released in April, does not ensure that inmates are properly anesthetized before the lethal injection is administered, Trauger said, which could "result in a terrifying, excruciating death."

For more on how the current cocktail of drugs fails to assure a pain-free death see the Human Rights Watch Report, So Long as They Die and this article submitted to TalkLeft in 2004, You Wouldn't Do a Dog This Way.

For more news coverage of the opinion, see the Stand Down Texas Project.

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It's Wrong to Shield the Executioner

Remember the dyslexic Missouri doctor who botched the drug dosages in dozens of executions?

The New York Times today opines on the practice of states like Missouri that "hood the executioner."

Missouri's ultimate response was to pass a law protecting the identity of the doctor administering the drugs and his ability to practice medicine even if he screws up:

Last month, however, Missouri’s governor signed a law that makes it a crime to reveal the identities of current or former executioners — as The St. Louis Post-Dispatch did in the case of the doctor who claimed dyslexia. It allows executioners to sue those who expose them and forbids medical licensing boards to punish doctors or nurses who participate in executions.

As the Times says,

Under the new secrecy law, Missouri’s capital punishment system may plunge deeper into incompetence and cruelty, and it will be harder for citizens to stop it.

Bottom line:

We oppose capital punishment for a host of reasons, including that it is unconstitutional. Even those who support executing their citizens must see the need to ensure that the process is not barbarically cruel and is fully open to public scrutiny.

One quibble with the Times. It cites Adam Liptak's recent articles on lethal injection. If the Times is serious about exposing the injustice of lethal injections, it ought to take Liptak's articles out from behind its "Times Select" firewall so everyone can read them.

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Florida Judge Criticizes "Hooded Executioner" Procedure

Last week, Governor Charlie Christ ended the suspension on executions in the state. Other objections are emerging.

At a hearing Sunday in a case involving an upcoming execution, Circuit Judge Carven Angel in Ocala expressed additional objections:

Circuit Judge Carven Angel in Ocala questioned the "experience and competence" of the hooded executioner who's paid by the state to apply lethal chemicals in the death chamber.

The Judge noted that the job of executioner, which pays $150.00 per execution, is open to those 18 and older. The law provides his or her identity be kept secret.

"I don't think that any 18-year-old executioner with the pressure of a governor's warrant behind him to carry out an execution, and with the pressure of the whole world, the press and the whole world in front of him, and looking at him, is going to have enough experience and competence to stop an execution when it needs to be stopped," the judge said, according to the transcript. "I just don't think that's going to happen."

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Okla. Executes Inmate Dying of Cancer

Bump and Update: The Supreme Court has denied the request for a stay. The execution has taken place. Bland was declared dead at 6:19 pm. I hope for his sake they started late -- 19 minutes is a long time.

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I can only imagine how the civilized world will view this story. Jimmy Dale Bland is set to be executed at 6pm tonight in Oklahoma.

Bland has advanced lung cancer which has spread to his hip and brain. He's terminally ill and will die soon on his own.

The Oklahoma state and federal courts have denied a stay, insisting the state has the right to kill him before he expires on his own.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Charles Chapel of Tulsa said a stay should be granted to protect "the dignity of society itself from the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance."

A last-minute decision from the Supreme Court is expected any time now.

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Execution Takes Two Hours, Ten Tries

Christopher Newton was put to death like a dog in Ohio yesterday. The execution took two hours and ten attempts.

The execution team stuck Christopher Newton at least 10 times with needles Thursday to insert the shunts where the chemicals are injected.

He died at 11:53 a.m., nearly two hours after the scheduled start of his execution at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. The process typically takes about 20 minutes.

"What is clear from today's botched execution is that the state doesn't know how to execute people without torturing them to death," American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio attorney Carrie Davis said Thursday.

On the other hand, you wouldn't do a dog this way.

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Calif. Proposes New Execution Procedures

California prison authorities proposed their new plan for executions today, aimed at alleviating criticism over past practices, in which there was no assurance the dying inmate wasn't feeling pain.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the new plan.

Aiming at ending a 16-month legal moratorium on capital punishment in California, state corrections officials today proposed new lethal injection execution procedures they say "will result in the dignified end of life" for condemned inmates.

The state acted in response to a December decision by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who concluded that the state's implementation of the death penalty amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and may have subjected six inmates to excruciatingly painful ends.

The new proposals are listed below:

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