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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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Creator of Lethal Injection Procedure Defends His Work

Who devised the three-drug cocktail for lethal injections? An Oklahoma doctor and medical examiner named Jay Chapman. 30 years later, and in the face of numerous court challenges, he defends his baby.

A sample of his thoughts:

If states are looking for a way to quickly and painlessly put someone to death, he has a suggestion.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the guillotine," he said impatiently. "It can be operated by an idiot and it is a very effective instrument."

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Study: Lethal Injection in Executions May Cause Death by Chemical Asphyxiation

A medical study out today casts new doubt on whether lethal injection causes the painless death we've all been told.

The study analyzed executions in two states, California and North Carolina. The findings:

We were able to analyze only a limited number of executions. However, our findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols may not reliably effect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure of design and implementation. If thiopental and potassium chloride fail to cause anesthesia and cardiac arrest, potentially aware inmates could die through pancuronium-induced asphyxiation. Thus the conventional view of lethal injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable.

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Schwarzenegger Orders Construction Stop on New Death Chamber

Last week I wrote about California prison officials going behind the backs of legislators and authorizing and beginning construction of a new death chamber at San Quentin.

Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an order halting construction on the project.

Of course, it's not that Arnold is opposed to the death penalty. It's that he wants the project properly budgeted and submitted to the legislature.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican who supports the death penalty, will present a revised budget plan to the legislature next month that will serve as the framework for final budget talks.

But, the Judge who recently found California's execution procedures unconstitutional only gave the state until May 15 to come up with a new plan.

His concerns have put lethal injections in California on hold and threaten to end the procedure in a state that had 664 inmates on death row as of last week. A few have been awaiting execution since the late 1970s. San Quentin's cramped death chamber, built in 1938, was originally designed to gas prisoners.

Update: Law Prof Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy contrasts Schwarzenegger with New York's Governor Eliot Sptizer, with praise for Spitzer.

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Executions and the Damage Done

The New York Times Magazine has a feature article on the death penalty, The Needle and The Damage Done.

Lethal injection challenges are now underway in almost every state with a death penalty.

As a result of those cases, about 12 of the 38 states that have the death penalty have issued temporary bans on executions, and in one, New Jersey, a legislative commission recently recommended abolishing its death penalty altogether.

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More on Lethal Injection

Andrew Cohen has a good Bench Conference today on last week's California federal court decision lambasting lethal injunction. And words of advice for Jeb Bush and officials in Florida.

Memo to Florida officials: Save your time and effort and money. Do not reinvent the wheel. Read and absorb the transcript of the lengthy and painstaking evidentiary hearing conducted earlier this year by Judge Fogel in the California case. And then implement the same changes that the judge has ordered California officials to implement before he will again allow executions in that state. It's clear what happened to Diaz. People who have no business executing someone were in charge of executing someone. And those people will screw up again if they are allowed to persist without proper oversight and regulation.

Maryland's courts weighed in today as well.

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Botched Execution Likely Caused Slow, Painful Death

Doctors are now weighing in on the botched Florida execution of Angel Nieves Diaz (background here and here.)

They believe he died a slow, agonizing death, which one equates to torture.

``It really sounds like he was tortured to death,'' said Jonathan Groner, associate professor of surgery at the Ohio State Medical School, who has written several articles on lethal injection. ``My impression is that it would cause an extreme amount of pain.''

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California Judge Declares State Executions Unlawful


A federal judge in San Jose has declared Calfornia's lethal injection system to be in violation of the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

[Judge] Fogel said that "substantial questions" had been raised by the records of previous executions in the state and that the California Department of Corrections' "actions and failure to act have resulted in an undue and unnecessary risk of an 8th Amendment violation."

The opinion is here (pdf). Check out Footnote 8 on how the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams:

Indeed, the execution team members’ reaction to the problem at the Williams execution was
described by one member as nothing more than “sh*t does happen, so.”

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Florida Halts Executions After Botched One Lasted 34 Minutes

Florida Governor Jeb Bush has ordered all Florida executions be suspended after the state botched the execution of Angel NievesDiaz which lasted 34 minutes.

Medical examiner Dr. William Hamilton said Wednesday's execution of Angel Nieves Diaz took 34 minutes — twice as long as usual — and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals because the needles were inserted clear through his veins and into the flesh in his arms. The chemicals are supposed to go into the veins.

Hamilton, who performed the autopsy, refused to say whether he thought Diaz died a painful death.

And in California, a judge has ordered the states' executions be stopped declaring the system of lethal injection "broken."

More on Diaz:

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