Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Some final squabbling over some of the final executions slated for 2013
This new Reuters piece, headlined "Oklahoma to execute inmate; Missouri execution stayed," provides a run down of some of the final aspects of some of the final executions scheduled for 2013. Here are the details:
Oklahoma on Tuesday was scheduled to execute a man convicted of raping and murdering two elderly women in the 1980s, while a federal appeals court panel has stayed a Missouri execution planned for hours later.
Missouri appealed the 2-1 ruling by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel to stay the execution of Allen Nicklasson, 41, who was found guilty of killing a stranger who offered him roadside assistance. Nicklasson has raised claims that his trial and appeals counsel were ineffective. The full Eighth Circuit was expected to hear arguments and rule Tuesday morning on the state's request to lift the stay of Nicklasson's execution, which is set for early Wednesday at a Missouri prison.
The Missouri Department of Corrections is proceeding with its plans for the execution unless instructed differently by the state attorney general, spokesman Mike O'Connell said. Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Ronald Clinton Lott, 53, by lethal injection at a state prison after 6 p.m. Central Time (0000 GMT) on Tuesday.
If carried out, the executions of Lott and Nicklasson would be the 37th and 38th in the United States this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Lott was convicted of raping and killing Anna Laura Fowler, 83, in 1986 and Zelma Cutler, 90, in 1987 in their Oklahoma City homes after DNA evidence linked him to the crimes.... Another man, Robert Lee Miller Jr., had originally confessed to the rape and murder of the two women and served 11 years, seven on death row, before DNA evidence led authorities to Lott. Miller was released in 1998.
Lott would be the fifth man executed in Oklahoma in 2013. The state is also scheduled to execute Johnny Dale Black, 48, on December 17 for his conviction in the 1998 stabbing death of Ringling, Oklahoma, horse trainer Bill Pogue.
In the Missouri case, Nicklasson was found guilty of murder for the August 1994 shooting of motorist Richard Drummond, who stopped on a highway to help Nicklasson and two other men whose car had broken down. The men had burglarized a home where they stole guns and ammunition before their vehicle broke down. When Drummond stopped to offer a ride, the men abducted him, took him to a wooded area and shot him in the head, according to court records. One of the men, Dennis Skillicorn, was executed in 2009. The other man, Tim DeGraffenreid, was 17 at the time. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a reduced sentence.
Nicklasson and Skillicorn were also convicted of killing an Arizona couple while they were on the run after killing Drummond. Nicklasson would be the second person executed in Missouri this year.
Nicklasson had been scheduled to die October 23, but Missouri Governor Jay Nixon halted the execution due to broad criticism over the state's planned use of the drug propofol, widely used as an anesthetic in medical procedures. The case is one of many caught up in a nationwide debate over what drugs can or should be used for executions as capital punishment opponents pressure pharmaceutical companies to cut off supplies of drugs for executions. Missouri in November used pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, mixed by a compounding pharmacy to execute serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin.
Because the executions discussed in this piece are the only ones likely to be carried out this month, it appears very likely that there will be less than 40 executions in the United States in 2013. This is only the second time in nearly two decades in which there were less than two score execution throughout the nation, and the last time (in 2008) no executions had been carried out for the first three months of the year as everyone awaited a result in Baze concerning the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Missouri mass murderer gets two last-minute execution stays from two federal judges... UPDATE: stays reversed, execution completed
As reported in this new Reuters article, "[t]wo federal judges granted a serial killer stays of execution on Tuesday hours before he was to be put to death, allowing him to challenge Missouri's new lethal drug protocol and his mental competence, and the state immediately appealed the rulings." Here is more:
Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed white supremacist, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing one man and wounding two outside a St. Louis-area synagogue in 1977. He was scheduled to be executed early on Wednesday at a Missouri prison.
Franklin, 63, has been linked to the deaths of at least 18 other people. He was convicted of killing eight in the late 1970s and 1980s in racially motivated attacks around the country. The victims included two African-American men in Utah, two African-American teenagers in Ohio and an interracial couple in Wisconsin.
Franklin also has admitted to shooting Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt in 1978, paralyzing him. Flynt has argued that Franklin should serve life in prison and not be executed.
In October, Missouri changed its official protocols to allow for a compounded pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, to be used in a lethal dose. The state also said it would make the compounding pharmacy mixing the drug a member of its official "execution team," which could allow the pharmacy's identity to be kept secret.
In granting the stay, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey noted that Missouri had issued three different protocols in the three months preceding Franklin's execution date and as recently as five days before. "Franklin has been afforded no time to research the risk of pain associated with the department's new protocol, the quality of the pentobarbital provided, and the record of the source of the pentobarbital," Laughrey wrote in the stay order entered in federal court in Jefferson City, Missouri....
In the second case, U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson in St. Louis ordered Franklin's execution stayed, concluding that a delay was required to permit a meaningful review of his claim that he is mentally incompetent and cannot be executed.
The Missouri Attorney General's office asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to lift the stays.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon denied Franklin clemency on Monday. Franklin is one of 21 plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the execution protocol issued by the Missouri Department of Corrections.
UPDATE: As the commentors to this post noted before I got back on-line, Franklin was executed by Missouri after the Eighth Circuit reversed both the stays he received. Here is an AP report on the execution:
Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, was put to death Wednesday in Missouri, the state's first execution in nearly three years.
Franklin, 63, was executed at the state prison in Bonne Terre for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting at a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. Franklin was convicted of seven other murders and claimed responsibility for up to 20, but the Missouri case was the only one that brought a death sentence.
Mike O'Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said Franklin was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m. The execution began more than six hours later than intended, and it took just 10 minutes....
Franklin's lawyer had launched three separate appeals: One claiming his life should be spared because he was mentally ill; one claiming faulty jury instruction when he was given the death penalty; and one raising concerns about Missouri's first-ever use of the single drug pentobarbital for the execution.
But his fate was sealed early Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that overturned two stays granted Tuesday evening by district court judges in Missouri. The rulings lifting the stay were issued without comment.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Florida Supreme Court delays execution to hear about new drug used in injection protocol
Concerns about new lethal injection drugs has bought at least a few more weeks of life for a Florida death row defendant. This Miami Herald update, headlined "Miami killer's execution delayed amid questions about new drug," explains:
In a 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday ordered that Thomas Knight's scheduled execution be delayed so he can argue that a new drug used to anesthetize a prisoner at the start of a lethal injection could subject him to "serious harm." Knight, also known as Askari Abdullah Muhammad, had been scheduled to die at Florida State Prison on Dec. 3.
Florida is the only state in the U.S. that uses midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the first stage of a three-drug lethal injection mixture. The new drug replaced pentobarbital after the state Department of Corrections exhausted its supply.
The state's high court stayed Knight's execution until at least Dec. 27 and sent his case back the state's Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Bradford County, where he is imprisoned. A circuit court judge must hold a hearing on the inmate's claims and issue a ruling no later than 2 p.m. Nov. 26, two days before Thanksgiving, after which time both sides can file additional arguments.
Knight has been on Death Row since 1975 for the murders of a Miami couple. While in prison he stabbed a correctional officer, Richard Burke, to death. It is that killing for which he is condemned to die.
In its order, the court said: "The Court has determined that Muhammad’s claim as to the use of midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the amount prescribed by Florida’s protocol warrants an evidentiary hearing. We conclude based on the allegations in Muhammad’s 3.851 motion that he has raised a factual dispute, not conclusively refuted, as to whether the use of midazolam hydrochloride in Florida’s lethal injection protocol will subject him to a 'substantial risk of serious harm.'
"We further direct the DOC (Department of Corrections) to produce correspondence and documents it has received from the manufacturer of midazolam hydrochloride concerning the drug’s use in executions or otherwise, including those addressing any safety and efficacy issues," the court ordered.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Reviewing the continuing challenges for states seeking to continue with lethal injectionThis New York Times piece, headlined "Executions Stall as States Seek Different Drugs," reports on the latest mechanical challenges for those states seeking to keep their machineries of death running despite new difficulties and old litigation surrounding lethal injection drugs and protocols. Here are excerpts:
Florida ran out of its primary lethal-injection drug last month and relied on a new drug that no state had ever used for an execution. At Ohio’s next scheduled execution, the state is planning to use a two-drug combination for the first time. Last month in Texas, Michael Yowell became that state’s first inmate executed using a drug made by a lightly regulated pharmacy that usually produces customized medications for individual patients.
The decision by manufacturers to cut off supplies of drugs, some of which had been widely used in executions for decades, has left many of the nation’s 32 death penalty states scrambling to come up with new drugs and protocols. Some states have already changed their laws to keep the names of lethal-drug suppliers private as a way to encourage them to provide drugs.
The uncertainty is leading to delays in executions because of legal challenges, raising concerns that condemned inmates are being inadequately anesthetized before being executed and leading the often-macabre process of state-sanctioned executions into a continually shifting legal, bureaucratic and procedural terrain....
“We have seen more changes in lethal injection protocols in the last five years than we have seen in the last three decades,” said Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and a death penalty expert. “These states are just scrambling for drugs, and they’re changing their protocols rapidly and carelessly.”
All 32 states with legalized executions use lethal injection as their primary option for executions. Of the more than 250 executions since 2008, all but five were done with lethal injections.
Facing increasing pressure and scrutiny from death penalty opponents, manufacturers of several drugs used in lethal injections — including sodium thiopental and pentobarbital — over the past few years have ceased production of the drugs or required that they not be used in executions. Looking for alternatives, state prison systems have been more eager to try new drugs, buy drugs from new sources, keep the identities of their drug suppliers secret and even swap drugs among states.
A week before the execution of a convicted murderer, Arturo Diaz, in September, Texas prison officials received two packages of pentobarbital from the Virginia Department of Corrections, at no charge; the state with the country’s second-busiest death chamber acting as ad-hoc pharmacy to the state with the busiest.
Several states have turned to compounding pharmacies, which are largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration and overseen primarily by the states. They have traditionally made specialized drugs, for instance, turning a medication into a cream or gel if a patient has trouble swallowing pills.
In Missouri, the availability of drugs and litigation have slowed the pace of executions. There have been two since 2009. “We are going to continue to be affected by these pharmaceutical company decisions time and again, unless the death penalty states can find a pharmaceutical product that has some supply stability around it,” said Chris Koster, the attorney general in Missouri, which dropped plans to use the anesthetic propofol after the European Union threatened to limit exports of the drug if it was used in an execution.
The drug shortages and legal wrangling have led some officials to discuss older methods of execution. In July, Mr. Koster suggested that the state might want to bring back the gas chamber. Dustin McDaniel, the attorney general in Arkansas, which has struggled with its lethal-injection protocol, told lawmakers the state’s fallback method of execution was the electric chair. Mr. Koster and Mr. McDaniel said they were not advocating the use of the gas chamber or the electric chair, but were talking about the possible legal alternatives to an increasingly problematic method for states.
“No state has had any success with getting their hands on the cocktail that has heretofore been relied upon,” Mr. McDaniel said. He said that lawyers for the state are trying to navigate the appeals process in death penalty cases while knowing that “if the legal hurdles were magically to go away, we are in no position to carry out an execution in this state.”
Saturday, November 02, 2013
"Bring Back the Guillotine"The title of this post is the headline of this new Slate commentary by John Kruzel. Here are excerpts:
A nationwide shortage of a key ingredient used in lethal injections has led some states to experiment with new, untested drug cocktails for executing death row inmates. The practice has raised moral and constitutional questions, and unleashed a wave of litigation. At this point, as a society, we should be asking whether we can stand by and watch as this barbaric practice continues. Are these iffy drug combinations really any better than the guillotine?
Bringing back the guillotine may sound crazy, but it’s certainly better than the current alternative. It’s better for prisoners because quickly severing the head is believed to be one of the quickest, least painful ways to die. And it’s better for organ recipients because the bodies of guillotined prisoners could be more quickly harvested for viable parts, unlike organs that may become unusable after lethal injection due to hypoxemia.
To be clear, I find capital punishment abhorrent in theory and practice. Even if you believe the death penalty is morally acceptable, evidence of wrongful executions and the large number of inmates having been condemned to death before being exonerated shows its undeniable failings. But until the Supreme Court overturns precedents saying that state-sanctioned executions are not cruel and unusual punishment, shouldn’t we strive to make executions the most humane that they can possibly be? Lethal injection — the current method of execution of the federal government and the 32 states with the death penalty — and the guillotine are both evils, but the guillotine is the lesser evil of the two....
One familiar position put forth by advocates of lethal injection is that the three-drug cocktail is far less offensive than the guillotine — to witnesses. Some state laws grant victims’ families the right to view executions. Would bringing back the guillotine fail to consider the feelings of those who would have to watch someone get his head severed?
In short, no. As Michael Lawrence Goodwin argues, there are two main reasons why victims’ families watch executions: out of a desire to represent a murdered family member at what they consider the ultimate stage of criminal justice, and because of a need for closure. A guillotine execution would not devalue someone’s symbolic presence, and it may actually better facilitate closure for certain witnesses....
Those who would be up for watching a state-sanctioned beheading should heed the warning of Albert Camus. The author and philosopher once told a biographer the story of his father’s experience witnessing the guillotine in action: “He got up in the dark to go to the place of execution at the other end of town amid a great crowd of people. What he saw that morning he never told anyone. My mother relates merely that he came rushing home, his face distorted, refused to talk, lay down for a moment on the bed, and suddenly began to vomit.”
As Camus made clear, capital punishment is always a barbaric practice. If we’re going to continue to allow it in the United States, maybe it makes sense to be confronted by how gruesome it really is.
Monday, October 28, 2013
"No Drugs, No Executions: The End of the Death Penalty"The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new article in The National Journal. The piece, which carries the sub-heading "As states scramble to find new cocktails of death, could a lack of options spell the end of capital punishment?," merits a full read. Here are a few excerpts:
On Oct. 15, Florida executed William Happ, a man who most agreed deserved little sympathy. Happ kidnapped 21-year-old Angela Crowley in 1986 from outside a convenience store in Crystal River and raped and strangled her before dumping her tormented body into the Cross Florida Barge Canal....
Happ died for his crimes committed 27 years ago. Like hundreds before him, Happ's death was administered through an intravenous injection of a lethal drug cocktail. Like no one before him, Happ was injected with midazolam hydrochloride, a sedative that had never before been used for an execution in the United States.
Happ's execution reflects an American death-penalty system in crisis: States are running out of the drugs they rely on to carry out death sentences as alternatives for how to secure them quickly diminish. And no one wants to innovate in the execution industry. As the medical community works to distance itself from the science of killing people, states are attempting to forge a difficult road ahead, one fraught with litigation, international tension, and uncertainty....
Florida is just one of several states scrambling to update or refine its capital-punishment protocol amid a sudden shortfall of its lethal injection drugs, resulting in an unprecedented inconsistency in the way inmates are executed in the United States. Even as a steady majority continues supporting the death penalty, the difficulty in obtaining new lethal drugs, associated legal hurdles, and a gaping void of better execution alternatives has left capital punishment in America with an uncertain future....
Eight days after Florida executed Happ, Missouri planned to put Allen Nicklasson to death with propofol. The anesthetic, which contributed to Michael Jackson's death by overdose in 2009, had also never been used before for a human execution. But buckling from pressure from the medical community, which argued propofol could inflict inhumane levels of pain, Gov. Jay Nixon halted Nicklasson's execution to ensure "justice is served and public health is protected." But a more practical matter was likely weighing on Nixon's mind: German manufacturer Fresenius Kabi had threatened to stop shipping propofol to the U.S. if the drug was allowed to be used for executions....
Doctors and researchers aren't exactly clamoring to develop new methods of killing people, and no one is advocating a regression to older forms of execution, like the electric chair or gas chamber. But even if a new, cutting-edge technique was developed somewhere, that too would almost certainly provoke a torrent of litigation.
UPDATE: Just this afternoon, I saw this local story from my own Columbus Dispatch reporting that a "shortage of pentobarbital will force Ohio prisons officials to rely on two drugs they have never used before for the scheduled Nov. 14 execution of Ronald Phillips of Summit County."
Given Ohio's history with lethal injection litigation, I would expect there to be some court action concerning this development in the next few weeks. Whether that court action is likely to delay any scheduled executions is hard for me to predict.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Mizzou revamps its lethal injection protocol and drug source for next executionAs reported in this new Reuters article, Missouri just announced new execution procedures to deal with lethal drug acquisition problems. Here are the basics and some national context:
The New Republic has published a somewhat related article here under the headline "Big Pharma May Help End the Death Penalty: Boycotts don't work against Texas executioners. But they could hurt pharmaceutical firms that make execution drugs."
A "compounding pharmacy" will supply lethal injection drugs for future executions in Missouri, the latest U.S. state to turn to the lightly regulated sector after major pharmaceutical companies refused to sell drugs for executions, the state said on Tuesday.
The Missouri Department of Corrections said in a brief statement that it would switch to using a single drug for executions, pentobarbital. Missouri had used a three drug protocol until recently. "The department also announced that it has added a compounding pharmacy to its execution team," the statement said. Asked the name of the pharmacy, department spokesman David Owen said that information could not be disclosed.
Missouri is the latest of a half dozen U.S. states turning for lethal injection drugs to compounding pharmacies - which typically mix drugs for individual prescriptions and are subject to light federal government regulation. The practice has drawn protests from opponents of the death penalty and advocates for death row inmates, who say the lack of regulation risks a botched execution.... Compounding pharmacies must register with state authorities but their products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Texas this month executed its first prisoner using a drug from a compounding pharmacy. Other states which have turned to such suppliers or have said they may do so soon include Georgia, South Dakota, Colorado and Ohio. A judge in Georgia this year granted a temporary stay of execution for a prisoner in part because of concerns about the quality of the compounded drug.
Missouri announced earlier this month that it would search for a new drug for executions after it came under pressure from drug makers, especially in Europe, not to use the drug propofol in executions.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Lethal uncertainty: Mizzou Gov postpones execution due to novel drug concernsAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Missouri gov. halts 1st US execution by propofol," the Show Me State has decided to delay its efforts to show whether a new drug might be used successful to executed condemned murderers. Here are the details:
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday halted what was to have been the first U.S. execution to use the popular anesthetic propofol, following threats from the European Union to limit the drug's export if it were used for that purpose.
Nixon also ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections to come up with a different way to perform lethal injections without propofol, the leading anesthetic used in America's hospitals and clinics. Nearly 90 percent of the nation's propofol is imported from Europe.
"As governor, my interest is in making sure justice is served and public health is protected," Nixon said in a statement. "That is why, in light of the issues that have been raised surrounding the use of propofol in executions, I have directed the Department of Corrections that the execution of Allen Nicklasson, as set for October 23, will not proceed."
Nixon, a Democrat and staunch supporter of the death penalty, did not specifically mention the EU threat in his brief statement. Nixon was Missouri's longtime attorney general before he was first elected governor in 2008. During his 16 years as attorney general, 59 men were executed.
The leading propofol maker, Germany-based Fresenius Kabi, and anesthesiologists had warned of a possible propofol shortage that could impact millions of Americans if any executions took place.
In a statement, Fresenius Kabi applauded Nixon's move. "This is a decision that will be welcomed by the medical community and patients nationwide who were deeply concerned about the potential of a drug shortage," said John Ducker, CEO of Fresenius Kabi USA. The company said propofol is administered about 50 million times annually in the U.S....
Drug makers in recent years have stopped selling potentially lethal pharmaceuticals to prisons and corrections departments because they don't want them used in executions. That has left the nearly three dozen death penalty states, including Missouri, scrambling for alternatives. Missouri altered its execution protocol in April 2012 to use propofol. The drug gained some level of infamy in 2009 when pop star Michael Jackson died of a propofol overdose.
Nixon's decision also leaves uncertain the execution scheduled for next month for another convicted killer, Joseph Franklin. Soon after Nixon's announcement, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a motion with the Missouri Supreme Court to vacate the Oct. 23 execution date for Nicklasson and to set a new date "soon after" Franklin's execution date of Nov. 20. A spokeswoman for Koster declined comment.
In addition to concerns raised about how the EU would respond to the execution, Missouri's decision to use propofol prompted a lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly two dozen death row inmates claiming use of the unproven execution drug could result in pain and suffering for the condemned man.
Koster, a Democrat, and Republican Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer have suggested that if the state can't execute by lethal injection it consider going back to the gas chamber, something that hasn't been used since the 1960s. Missouri no longer has a gas chamber but Schaefer recently wrote to Nixon, urging him to consider funding construction of a new one in his next fiscal year budget.
The corrections department on Wednesday agreed to return a shipment of propofol to Louisiana-based distributor Morris & Dickson Co. The company distributes propofol made in Europe by Fresenius Kabi and told the corrections department in November that its shipment was a mistake. Corrections spokesman David Owen said Wednesday that Missouri had a remaining supply of propofol, all of it domestically made. But Fresenius Kabi spokesman Matt Kuhn said even the use of domestically produced propofol in an execution could prompt the EU to impose export controls.
Meanwhile, Mercer Medical, a Kent, Wash.-based third-party vendor, said Friday in a news release it has asked for the 400 milliliters of propofol it sold to the corrections department in June be returned at the request of the manufacturer, Hospira. The website for Hospira says it is headquartered in Lake Forest, Ill....
Nicklasson's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, said she was pleased with the delay, but expects the state to move quickly to revise its execution protocol. "They're pretty anxious to execute people so I would think that the state would put something forward sooner rather than later," Herndon said.
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Arizona and Texas complete executions 29 and 30 in the US in 2013
Throughout the United States, there has been on average less than one execution per week in 2013; this year might end up having the fewest executions in the US in one calendar year in nearly two decades. (The Death Penalty Information Center has the yearly execution data well assembled here.) But as reported in the articles linked below, two states today brought total number of executions up to 30:
Friday, October 04, 2013
Ohio adopts new execution protocol to get needed drugs from compounding pharmaciesAs reported in this local article, Ohio has yet another new execution protocol as of this afternoon. Here are the details:
Ohio’s revised execution policy maintains use of pentobarbital, a drug that is in short supply, but allows to the state get it from a new source: compounding pharmacies. The revised policy [available here], released this morning by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, makes no major changes other than the source of the drugs used.
The policy does not directly address the critical issue of the shortage of pentobarbital, the single drug currently used in executions. The state used what it said was the last of its supply of the drug in executing Harry Mitts Jr. of Cuyahoga County on Sept. 25.
However, it now says that pentobarbital, and the backup drugs, Midazolam, a sedative, and Hydromorphone, a strong opiate, can all be obtained from a “manufacturer, distributor or compounding pharmacy.” The state has been buying from manufacturers or distributors, but not compounding pharmacies.
Such pharmacies doing customized preparation and mixing of chemicals, usually to meet specific needs of patients or clients. However, several other states — mostly recently Texas just this week — have turned to the compounding pharmacies because manufacturers of pentobarbital refuse to sell it to states that use it for executions. Colorado, Pennsylvania and South Dakota have either obtained or investigated buying drugs from compounding pharmacies....
Compounding pharmacies have come under fire in recent years because of problems with drugs, including a 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis that killed 63 people and sickened hundreds, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since 1999, when Ohio resumed executions, prison officials have used three drugs, singly and in combination, for lethal injections. State officials said in a federal-court filing in August that the switch to a new execution protocol was necessary because the state’s supply of pentobarbital was running out.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Could execution drug difficulties and switches result in real public health problems?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this AP article, headlined "Use of drug for execution might cut supply: Missouri plans on using common anesthetic in October to kill convicted murderer." Here are excerpts:
The planned use of a common anesthetic in a Missouri execution is raising concerns that the anti-death penalty European Union could limit export of the drug, endangering the supply of a vital medication used every day in thousands of American hospitals and clinics.
The execution scheduled for Oct. 23 would be the first to use propofol, which is by far the nation’s most popular anesthetic. About 50 million vials are administered annually in some 15,000 locations. That’s about four-fifths of all anesthetic procedures, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Propofol is popular because it works quickly and patients wake up faster with fewer side effects such as post-operative nausea.
Roughly 85 percent of the U.S. supply of propofol is made in Europe, where capital punishment is outlawed, by the German company Fresenius Kabi. Export is controlled by the European Union, which prohibits trade in goods that could be used for executions. The EU is reviewing whether to subject propofol to that rule.
If it is added to the regulation, propofol would be subject to export controls, not a complete ban, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said. Still, any change in export practices could have a drastic effect on propofol’s availability in the U.S., said Matt Kuhn, a spokesman for Fresenius Kabi USA. “It’s a real concern,” Kuhn said Friday. “And it could have enormous public health implications.”
Fresenius Kabi has launched a website specifically to address the ramifications of using propofol in a U.S. execution, http://propofol-info.com. The Food and Drug Administration is worried about any move that could affect access to propofol. FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson said the agency is weighing how to reach out to European officials to ensure the drug remains readily available. “We do consider this a critical need,” Jefferson said. “Without the drug, we’re concerned that surgeries would be delayed and patients would be at risk.”
Until recently, Missouri and other states with the death penalty used virtually the same three-drug protocol. That changed in recent years as drug makers stopped selling the traditional execution drugs to prison officials because they didn’t want them used for lethal injections.
Last year, the Missouri Department of Corrections turned to propofol, which made headlines in 2009 when pop star Michael Jackson died after overdosing on the drug. So far, Missouri is the only state to adopt propofol for executions, though it has not yet put anyone to death with the drug.
At one point, the shortage of execution drugs was so concerning in the state that Attorney General Chris Koster hinted that use of the gas chamber was a possible alternative. Missouri used gas for executions in the early 1900s but no longer has a working chamber.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
"Lethal Injection Secrecy Post-Baze"The title of this post is the title of this new and timely piece available via SSRN authored by Deborah Denno. Here is the abstract:
This article assesses the impact of the 2008 Supreme Court case Baze v. Rees on lethal injection, this country’s prevailing method of execution. The Baze Court declared Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol constitutional. Yet the opinion was too weak and vague to quell legal challenges to lethal injection, which have soared in the past five years and led states to modify their lethal injection protocols with unprecedented frequency. This article’s unique analysis of over 300 cases citing Baze from 2008-2013 reveals that states’ lethal injection protocols have become increasingly diverse from one another, and from the original protocol evaluated by the Baze Court. Consequently, Baze has been rendered largely irrelevant a mere five years after its issuance.
Meanwhile, post-Baze legal challenges have been overshadowed by an even bigger obstacle to lethal injection: unanticipated national shortages in lethal injection drugs, which have resulted in a new wave of litigation and protocol changes as states struggle to procure the drugs they need to carry out lethal injection executions. A growing number of states are considering the use of compounding pharmacies to manufacture lethal injection drugs. Yet proposed (and seemingly inevitable) legislation that would increase regulation of these facilities may render compounded drugs ineligible for use in executions.
Left with little guidance from Baze and dwindling drug supplies, states are likely to retreat into secrecy regarding their lethal injection procedures, making it increasingly difficult to identify and address enduring problems with those procedures. This article calls for transparency as a crucial foundation for efforts to ensure that lethal injections remain constitutional at a time when the future of this execution method is far from clear.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Making a potent argument for executions by firing squad rather than lethal injectionRobert Blecker, responding in part to the seemingly endless litigation and problems surrounding lethal injection execution protocols, has this new provocative CNN commentary under the headline "With death penalty, let punishment truly fit the crime." The full piece is a must-read, and here are excerpts highlighting why:
No matter how vicious the crime, no matter how vile the criminal, some death penalty opponents feel certain that nobody can ever deserve to die -- even if that person burned children alive, massacred a dozen strangers in a movie theater, or bombed the Boston Marathon. Other opponents admit the worst of the worst of the worst do deserve to die. They just distrust the government ever to get it right.
Now that pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply the lethal drugs that U.S. corrections departments have used for years to execute criminals -- whether from their own genuine moral objections or to escape a threatened economic boycott -- states have begun to experiment. Death penalty opponents, who call themselves abolitionists, then protest the use of these untried drugs that just might cause a condemned killer to feel pain as he dies.
Let the punishment fit the crime. We've mouthed that credo for centuries, but do we really mean it? We retributivists who believe in justice would reward those who bring us pleasure, but punish severely those who sadistically or wantonly cause us pain. A basic retributive measure -- like for like or giving a person a taste of his own medicine -- satisfies our deepest instincts for justice.
When the condemned killer intentionally tortured helpless victims, how better to preserve some direct connection short of torture than by that murderer's quick but painful death? By ensuring death through anesthesia, however, we have nearly severed pain from punishment....
I, too, oppose lethal injection, but not because these untried new drugs might arbitrarily cause pain, but because they certainly cause confusion.
Lethal injection conflates punishment with medicine. The condemned dies in a gurney, wrapped in white sheets with an IV in his veins, surrounded by his closest kin, monitored by sophisticated medical devices. Haphazardly conceived and hastily designed, lethal injection appears, feels, and seems medical, although its sole purpose is to kill....
Publicly opposing this method of execution, I have found odd common ground with Deborah Denno, a leading abolitionist scholar who relentlessly attacks lethal injection protocols. Although Denno vigorously opposes all capital punishment, we both agree that the firing squad, among all traditional methods, probably serves us best. It does not sugarcoat, it does not pretend, it does not shamefully obscure what we do. We kill them, intentionally, because they deserve it.
Some people may support the firing squad because it allows us to put blanks in one of the guns: An individual sharpshooter will never know whether he actually killed the condemned. This strikes me as just another symptom of our avoidance of responsibility for punishment. The fact is, in this society, nobody takes responsibility for punishing criminals. Corrections officers point to judges, while judges point to legislators, and legislators to corrections. Anger and responsibility seem to lie everywhere elsewhere -- that is, nowhere. And where we cannot fully escape responsibility -- as with a firing squad -- we diffuse it....
Ironically, even as we recoil from punishing those who most deserve it, we readily over-punish those who don't. A "war on drugs" swells our prisons. We punish addiction and call it crime; we indiscriminately and immorally subject a burglar or car thief to the same daily life in prison we also reserve for rapist murderers.
The time has come to make punishment more nearly fit the crime. To face what we do, and acknowledge, with regret but without shame, that the past counts.
So part of me hopes the abolitionists succeed with their latest campaign against death by lethal injection. We should banish this method. Let the abolitionists threaten to boycott gun manufacturers. See where that gets them. Meanwhile, the rest of us will strive to keep our covenants with victims, restore a moral balance, and shoot to kill those who deserve to die.
Rest assured, when we can only achieve justice by killing a vicious killer, We, the People will find a constitutional way to do it.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Latest news on chemical logistical challenges now surrounding lethal injectionThe New York Times has this effective new report, headlined "Death Row Improvises, Lacking Lethal Mix," discussing some of the latest notable logistical realities surrounding lethal injection protocols. Here are excerpts:
The decision by the Missouri Supreme Court to allow propofol, the same powerful anesthetic that caused the death of Michael Jackson, to be used in executions — coming at a time when Texas, Ohio, Arkansas and other states are scrambling to come up with a new drug for their own lethal injections — is raising new questions about how the death penalty will be carried out.
“The bottom line is no matter what drugs they come up with, despite every avenue these states have pursued, every drug they have investigated has met a dead end,” said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School who studies execution methods and the death penalty. “This affects every single execution in the country. It just stalls everything, stalls the process.”
With manufacturers now refusing to supply corrections departments with the drugs they had been using for executions, some states, like Georgia, have been resorting to obtaining drugs from compounding pharmacies — specialty drugmakers — which death penalty opponents say lack the proper quality control. Other states, as they run low on their old stock of drugs and are unable to replace them, are turning to new, untried methods like propofol or simply announcing that they are searching for a solution....
[Recent developments have] left states unsure of what to do when their stockpiles run out — use some other drug like propofol, buy versions of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy, or abandon lethal injections altogether and return to some other form of capital punishment.
“It’s an artificially created problem,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty. “There is no difficulty in using a sedative such as pentobarbital. It’s done every day in animal shelters throughout the country. But what we have is a conspiracy to choke off capital punishment by limiting the availability of drugs.”
The issue is expected to come to a head soon. Both Texas, the state with the busiest death house, and Ohio have said they would introduce a new lethal injection protocol in the next couple of months. Officials in both of those states have said in court filings that they would run out of their stockpiles in September.
“Corrections departments often buy a year’s supply of the drugs they use, but it has a shelf life and it’s expiring,” said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “I think we are about to have some new breakthroughs on what the states are using. A lot of them will probably follow whatever Texas decides to do.”
On Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to allow executions using propofol to move ahead in October and November. There is no question that it would kill, but since it has never been used in an execution, death penalty opponents say, there is no way to say how much pain might be involved or what dose should be administered.
Arkansas had announced that it would use pentobarbital in its executions, but when that drug became unavailable, the governor refused to schedule any more executions until the state came up with a substitute — which has not happened. California also announced, in June, that it would abandon the use of a three-drug cocktail and is studying what to replace it with. “This drug issue is a temporary problem that is entirely fixable,” Mr. Scheidegger said. “It is not a long-term impediment to the resumption of capital punishment.”
Death penalty opponents, however, feel that the rejection of one drug after another will inevitably limit capital punishment.... There were 43 executions in the United States in 2012, Mr. Dieter said, and a slightly lower number — 30 to 40 — is expected this year....
“This issue of the drugs is just a way to stop things or slow them down,” said Robert Blecker, a professor of criminal law at New York Law School and a death penalty supporter. “It’s an abolitionist tactic to gum up the works. I know why they’re doing it. From their perspective, every death delayed is a day in favor of abolition. It’s just another tactic.”
I share the perspective that we may soon have "some new breakthroughs" on how states seek to conduct executions and that many states will "follow whatever Texas decides to do." I also expect that Texas state courts and the Fifth Circuit will be relatively unlikely to halt executions based on (inevitable?) legal challenges to any new lethal injection protocols or plans. But when and how other state courts and federal courts respond to such challenges may script whether the number of execution nationwide will continue to decline in coming years or may actually start to rise at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Saturday, August 03, 2013
With seven executions scheduled, Texas running out of needed drugsAs this AP story reports, Texas is on the verge of having problems already facing other states with expired or expiring execution drugs. Here are the details:
The nation's most active death penalty state is running out of its execution drug. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Thursday that its remaining supply of pentobarbital expires in September and that no alternatives have been found. It wasn't immediately clear whether two executions scheduled for next month would be delayed. The state has already executed 11 death-row inmates this year, and at least seven more have execution dates in coming months.
"We will be unable to use our current supply of pentobarbital after it expires," agency spokesman Jason Clark said. "We are exploring all options at this time."
Texas switched to the lethal, single-dose sedative last year after one of the drugs used in its three-drug execution process became difficult to obtain and the state's supply expired. Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs' use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions....
"When Texas raises a flag that's it having a problem, obviously numerically it's significant around in the country because like they're doing half the executions in the country right now," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty organization, said Thursday....
Some death penalty states, most recently Georgia, have announced they're turning to compounding pharmacies, which make customized drugs that are not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration, to obtain a lethal drug for execution use.
Missouri wants to use propofol, the anesthetic blamed for pop star Michael Jackson's 2009 death - even though the drug hasn't been used to execute prisoners in the U.S. Its potential for lethal injection is under scrutiny by the courts and its first use isn't likely anytime soon. The Missouri Supreme Court has declined to allow execution dates to be set in that state until the legal issues are resolved.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster recently suggested that if a suitable execution drug can't be found, the state should consider the gas chamber. State law still allows for execution by lethal gas, though Missouri no longer even has a gas chamber....
Texas has by far executed more inmates than any other state in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume. Since 1982, six years after the high court's order, Texas has executed 503 inmates. Virginia is a distant second at 110.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Arkansas struggling to work through how to lawfully complete executionsAs reported in this local article, headlined "Arkansas Committee Looks for Ways to Administer Death Penalty," officials in The Natural State are having a very hard time coming up with a natural and constitutional method for carrying out executions:
Arkansas officials are considering what steps to take in the wake of comments by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel claiming Arkansas’ death penalty system is broken. McDaniel told the joint Judiciary Committee the nationwide unavailability of the lethal injection drug, a lack of medical personnel willing to administer the dose, and a continuing stream of costly litigation has rendered the state unable to perform its duty.
Some lawmakers suggested other methods used elsewhere. McDaniel said those options carry many of the same problems as well as an additional burden of meeting what the court’s deem to be our evolving societal values.
"Of course we don't know for sure how the courts would view an execution by firing squad, or gas chamber, or by electric chair. But I think I have a pretty good guess. Although the specific factual issues in a challenge to execution by one of those alternative methods would be different the legal issues regarding claims of cruelty and the possibility of undue pain or mistake would be exactly the same as the claims raised in the lethal injection cases," said McDaniel.
Republican Senator Jeremy Hutchison of Benton said challenges to carrying out the death penalty, especially the unavailability of the lethal drug, is not a reason to stop pursuing other options. "This is on the books and as long as juries are rendering capital punishment we are obligated as legislators, and the as the Attorney General, to do everything we can to see that it's carried out," said Hutchison.
McDaniel said he will continue working to uphold the law, but that the state has very few options and other states around the country are facing similar problems. McDaniel said options include the abolition of the death penalty, continuing litigation, and pressuring Congress to lift an FDA ban on imports of lethal barbiturates.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Mixed DC Circuit ruling in suit against FDA allowing execution drug importationAs reported in this AP piece, the DC Circuit "ruled Tuesday that the Food and Drug Administration violated its duty by allowing a misbranded and unapproved new drug to be imported for use in executions by lethal injection." But the ruling also "reversed another part of the lower court’s order and allowed state correctional departments to keep stocks of the drug they currently have." Here is the concluding paragraph of the unanimous panel ruling today in Cook v. FDA, No. 12-5176 (DC Cir. July 23, 2013) (available here):
The FDCA imposes mandatory duties upon the agency charged with its enforcement. The FDA acted in derogation of those duties by permitting the importation of thiopental, a concededly misbranded and unapproved new drug, and by declaring that it would not in the future sample and examine foreign shipments of the drug despite knowing they may have been prepared in an unregistered establishment. The district court could not remedy the FDA’s unlawful actions, however, by imposing upon the interests of nonparties to this suit. The order of the district court pertaining to the thiopental already in the possession of the states, quoted in the paragraph above, is therefore vacated, but the underlying judgment of the district court is Affirmed.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Lethal injection litigation stops Georgia execution efforts in notable Hill caseAs reported in this Reuters article, yesterday condemned Georgia murderer Warren Hill "won a temporary reprieve just three hours before his scheduled execution by a judge who cited concerns over the state's new law governing lethal injections." Here are the details along with some reasons why this case has been noteworthy in the past:
Warren Lee Hill, 53, had been sentenced to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan stayed the execution until at least Thursday so she could hear more arguments from Hill's lawyers who say the new law is unconstitutional because it shrouds in secrecy a drug used to execute Georgia citizens.
The law, which prohibits the release of information about the lethal drug's manufacturer, was passed in March after the state's cache of the sedative drug expired and national and international pressure made it more difficult for states to obtain it for executions, according to Hill's attorneys. Hill was set to be executed using a dose of pentobarbital provided to the state by an unnamed manufacturer.
Hill killed a fellow prisoner, Joseph Handspike, in August 1990 by beating him to death. Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright.
In addition to the injection issue, Hill's attorneys argue that he should not be executed under Georgia's law that bans capital punishment for mentally disabled inmates. State prosecutors say that early examinations showed that Hill has the capacity to understand his execution and argue that it should move forward.
According to court records, Hill scored 69 on one intelligence test and in the 70s on other examinations. Mental disability is generally defined as having a score of 70 or below on intelligence tests, Hill's attorneys said.
In February, Hill's lawyers filed affidavits in a Georgia court by three doctors who found Hill competent 13 years ago but who now believe he is mentally disabled. In the affidavits, one doctor called the earlier evaluation for the state "extremely and unusually rushed" while another said his opinions were "unreliable because of my lack of experience at the time." A third doctor cited "advances in the understanding of mental retardation" since 2000.
However, in court documents, the state of Georgia said the three state doctors reviewed "extensive materials" before concluding in 2000 that Hill was not mentally disabled, and were thoroughly cross-examined by Hill's attorneys at the time. The doctors noted in 2000 that Hill had been a recruiter for the U.S. Navy, budgeted his money and was a "father figure" for his siblings, the state said in court documents.
In 1988, Georgia became the first U.S. state to enact a law banning the execution of mentally disabled defendants. But according to death penalty experts, Georgia has perhaps the toughest standard in the nation for defining mental disability, requiring proof "beyond a reasonable doubt." Last week, an Atlanta-based non-profit group, All About Developmental Disabilities, called for Georgia to change its death penalty law to lower the standard for proving mental disability.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Years late, California gives up defense of three-drug execution protocolWay back in 2009, Ohio started completing executions successfully using the one-drug lethal injection protocol that death penalty litigants were claiming would be more humane. At that time, California's execution protocol had already been tied up in litigation for a couple of years, and I could think of no strong reason why California ought not just embrace a new one-drug protocol. This local story, headlined "California death penalty: State abandons defense of three-drug executions," reports that prison officials have finally come to see the error of their ways:
California has abandoned the legal defense of its delay-ridden lethal injection procedures, moving ahead to adopt a single-drug option that has been embraced by other states trying to enforce their death penalty laws.
The Brown administration has decided against appealing a May ruling that invalidated the state's three-drug execution method, which has been mired in years of state and federal court legal tangles. Faced with a Wednesday deadline, the state chose not to seek a California Supreme Court review of the decision striking down the three-drug procedure because state officials failed to follow administrative rules when adopting them several years ago.
A prison system spokeswoman said the governor and other state officials will proceed with working out a method of executing condemned inmates with a single fatal dose of a sedative, which other states -- such as Ohio, Arizona and Washington -- have adopted to short-circuit legal challenges to their lethal injection procedures.
The governor has ordered prison officials to craft the single-drug option to "ensure that California's laws on capital punishment are upheld," the Department of Corrections said in a news release. However, the latest development will not kick-start executions in San Quentin's death chamber. Approving the single-drug method could take a year or longer, and then it must be reviewed by the federal courts, adding further delays to California's death penalty system.
More than 725 inmates live on California's death row, where there has not been an execution since early 2006 as a result of lethal injection legal challenges. Death row inmates sued over the three-drug execution method, arguing that it risked a cruel and inhumane death.
In response to a federal judge's concerns, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown both tried to overhaul the three-drug procedures, revising training for execution team members, built a new lethal injection chamber and crafted new rules for carrying out executions. But the state has botched the effort, twice violating the state's administrative procedures rules.
In the May ruling, the 1st District Court of Appeal scrapped the regulations, finding, among other problems, that state officials never publicly explained why they opted for the three-drug method instead of the single-drug option when they held hearings in 2010.
California could face other obstacles even if challenges to the single drug option fail. States across the country, including California, are struggling to assemble reliable supplies of execution drugs because of resistance from drug manufacturers and other problems, prompting separate legal challenges in other courts.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Talk in Missouri of turning to gas chamber due to lethal injection litigationThis new ABC News article, headlined "Missouri Death Row Legal Battle Could Bring Back Gas Chamber," reports on new talk of a possible return to an older execution technology. Here is how the article starts:
Twenty-one inmates on Missouri's death row have sued the state's Department of Corrections in federal court, alleging that the state's new lethal injection protocol -- which calls for a single injection of the powerful sedative propofol -- constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
The Missouri Supreme Court has since halted all executions by lethal injection in the state as a result of the lawsuit, and now state Attorney General Chris Koster has hinted at bringing back the gas chamber.
The inmates claim in their lawsuit filed last August that Missouri cannot execute by lethal injection, because the injections now contain propofol, which has never been used before in any U.S. execution. The effects of propofol at lethal doses, they argue, are unknown and can never be tested in a clinical trial.
Koster said the federal litigation raises an "artificial hurdle … to prevent the state from carrying out the death penalty. Unless the court changes its current course, the legislature will soon be compelled to fund … alternative methods of execution to carry out lawful judgments," he said last week in a statement.
"Our state legalizes only two methods of execution, execution by lethal injection or execution by lethal gas," Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, told ABC News. "So if we couldn't execute by lethal injection, the alternative would be by lethal gas."