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Florida 's First Execution Since Botched One Set For Tuesday

On December 13, 2006, Angel Diaz of Puerto Rico was executed by lethal injection in Florida. It took 34 minutes to kill him.

An autopsy later revealed that the IVs inserted into Diaz were faulty, the drugs were injected into his tissues, not his veins, and they also were released in the wrong order so that Diaz received the last, painful drug before he should have. The autopsy revealed a foot-long chemical blister in his body tissue.

Gov. Jeb Bush ordered an investigation and a moratorium on executions ensued. Fast forward to Tuesday when Florida will resume killing inmates by lethal injection. [More...]

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Ohio Judge Orders Switch to Barbiturates for Executions

Judge James Burge in Ohio has ruled that Ohio must change its three drug execution cocktail to a single dose of barbiturates if it wants to continue executions.

He based the ruling on Ohio law that mandates the use of “a drug or combination of drugs of sufficient dosage to quickly and painlessly cause death.”

The Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees refused to find the three drug cocktail, which veternarians won't use in dogs, unconstitutional. [More...]

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Why Not One Drug for Lethal Injections?

The New York Times reports that states are rescheduling executions now that the Supreme Court has ruled in Baze v. Rees that the three drug cocktail used by states does not violate the 8th Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Fourth Circuit has a new challenge on its hands.In Emmett v. Johnson, Emmett is arguing that the way in which Virginia administers the drugs is unconstitutional because unlike Kentucky and other states, it doesn't allow enough time for the first drug, which anesthetizes and renders the inmate unconscious, to take effect before administering the other two drugs which cause pain. To make it worse, when there seems to be a problem with the first drug, rather than giving more of the drug, Virginia increases the doses of the pain-causing second and third drugs, but not the first.

In its brief (available here pdf) Emmett's lawyers make the argument that there is a painless way to kill someone with just one drug: [More...]

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You Wouldn't Do a Dog This Way

Since 2004, I've been writing about how vets won't put dogs down using the chemicals prisons use to execute inmates.

A new study, Anesthetizing the Public Conscience: Lethal Injection and Animal Euthanasia, is out comparing the two -- and witnesses are testifying in an Ohio death penalty case to exactly that: you wouldn't do a dog this way.

First, the Ohio case:

An anesthesiologist testified Monday that Ohio's lethal injection procedure isn't appropriate for dogs or cats, let alone humans. Dr. Mark Heath's testimony on behalf of two murder defendants came in a Lorain County hearing on the constitutionality of state's method for putting prisoners to death.

Heath, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University, says it's possible to perform lethal injection of prisoners in a humane manner, but that Ohio's method falls below the standard for euthanizing household pets.

The problems in a nutshell:[More...]

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NE Journal of Medecine: Doctors Should Not Participate in Executions

There's an editorial today by three physicians in the New England Journal of Medicine. Shorter version: Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides in Baze v. Rees, physicians should not participate in executions.

This spring the U.S. Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees1 will rule on the constitutionality of the three-drug regimen currently used for lethal injection in most state executions. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits punishment that is "cruel and unusual." The central question before the Court in Baze is whether the use of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride violates that constitutional prohibition.

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Missouri Executioner Had a Criminal Past

We've written before about the problems in Missouri with executioners -- most notably, the dyslexic doctor who administered the fatal cocktail.

Now, the New York Times recaps last week's St. Louis Post Dispatch article about a nurse on the state's execution team who had a criminal record and was on probation:

Before a Missouri executioner could go to Indiana in 2001 to help federal authorities put mass killer Timothy McVeigh to death, he had to take care of one detail:

He needed permission from his probation officer to leave the state.

The Post-Dispatch named the nurse, even though a state law was passed after the dyslexic doctor was identified prohibiting disclosure. The paper explains why it is naming the nurse: [More...]

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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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