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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.

More...

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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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