Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Notable early legislative responses to Ohio's recent lethal injection struggles
As repotted in this new local article, headlined "Legislative Democrats push anti-death penalty bills following controversial execution," at least a few member of the Ohio General Assembly have a few ideas about how the state should respond to its recent execution challenges. Here are the basics:
In the wake of Dennis McGuire's controversial execution last week, legislative Democrats are ramping up efforts to halt — or at least modify — the death penalty in Ohio.
State Sen. Edna Brown, a Toledo Democrat, called for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty and announced she would introduce legislation to abolish its practice in the state. Brown sponsored a similar bill in 2011.
In addition, Democratic state Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown said in a release that he's introducing a bill that would require the governor and the state's prisons chief to be personally present during all future executions.
Both bills come after McGuire, convicted of raping, choking and stabbing a 22-year-old woman in 1989, was the first person in the United States to be put to death using a new and untried lethal-injection cocktail involving midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative. McGuire made several loud snorting sounds during his execution last Thursday, which took more than 15 minutes and was one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed using capital punishment in 1999....
In addition, an already-introduced House bill to abolish the death penalty will come before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. House Bill 385 would substitute capital punishment with life imprisonment, with parole options after 20 or 30 years for some of those who plead guilty to or are convicted of aggravated murder.
Cleveland-area Democratic Reps. Dan Ramos of Lorain and Nickie Antonio of Lakewood introduced the legislation last month. Ramos and Antonio have cited reasons such as DNA evidence testing and racial disparities in sentencing as reasons to abolish capital punishment.
All three Democratic bills face an uphill climb in the Ohio General Assembly, as Republicans have significant majorities in both the House and Senate....
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will conduct a review of Ohio's death penalty procedures, as is standard policy after every execution, according to department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. Smith said she wasn't sure when that review would be completed, though she anticipated it would be done by March 19, when Gregory Lott of Cleveland is scheduled to become the next death row inmate to be executed.
Lott, convicted in 1987 of robbing and murdering an 82-year-old East Cleveland man, is also planning to file a federal lawsuit challenging the use of Ohio's new lethal-injection drugs, his attorney said last week.
As this article highlights, a number of political realities likely ensure Ohio is unlikely to abolish the death penalty anytime soon. But the national and international attention garnered by last week's Ohio execution surely means that those looking to repeal or curtail Ohio's capital punishment system will garner a lot more attention in the days and weeks ahead.
While I am not expecting too much of legal consequence to happen in Ohio on the legislative front, I expect there will be a lot of consequential developments in the weeks ahead emerging from the executive and judicial branches. Governor john Kasich has shown a willingness to use his clemency powers to delay executions or commute death sentences for a number of reasons. And as this press release reveals, the ACLU of Ohio has already publicly urge the Governor to impose a moratorium on executions. Here is how the press release starts: "[On Sunday], the ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich, asking him to use his executive authority to declare an immediate halt to executions in Ohio. The letter comes on the heels of the state’s fourth botched execution in less than ten years."
Om the judicial side, there is still on-going federal litigation over the constitutionality of Ohio's execution methods (as well as a new lawsuit threated by the McGuire family). Moreover, in the wake of all the new troubles with the new lethal injection protocol, I cannot help but wonder if advocates for death row prisoners or others interested in abolition of the death penalty might now try to bring some state civil rights litigation in order to require the Ohio Supreme Court to consider and addresss how the state is now administering the punishment of death.
Recent related posts:
- Ohio completes execution using novel two-drug lethal injection protocol... UPDATED with media reports of problems
- "Family to file lawsuit after troubled execution"... seeking what remedy?
- Lots of notable reactions to and predictions after Ohio's latest struggles with lethal injection
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Lots of notable reactions to and predictions after Ohio's latest struggles with lethal injection
As reported here and here, Ohio's experiment with a new and novel two-drug execution protocol this past week did not look as peaceful as most everyone wants. While the reaction by the family of the executed murderer is to talk up a possible lawsuit against the state of Ohio, reactions of lots of others are varied as evidenced in some of the quotes found within this sampling of recent media stories:
From the AP here, "Unclear Future for Executions After Ohio's Longest"
From the AP here, "Missouri, Wyoming lawmakers open to allowing executions by firing squad"
From CNN here, "Family, experts: Ohio execution snafu points to flaws in lethal injection"
From the Los Angeles Times here, "Prolonged execution renews debate over death by lethal injection"
From Reuters here, "U.S. states could turn to firing squads if execution drugs scarce"
From the New York Times here, "After a Prolonged Execution in Ohio, Questions Over 'Cruel and Unusual'"
Recent related posts:
- Ohio completes execution using novel two-drug lethal injection protocol... UPDATED with media reports of problems
- "Family to file lawsuit after troubled execution"... seeking what remedy?
Friday, January 17, 2014
"Family to file lawsuit after troubled execution"... seeking what remedy?
The title of this post is the headline of this breaking news from my own Columbus Dispatch coming less than 24 hours after the great state of Ohio carried out an execution using a novel two-drug execution protocol. Here are the details:
The family of Dennis McGuire will file a federal lawsuit against the state of Ohio over his troubled execution yesterday. Amber and Dennis McGuire, the executed man’s children, scheduled a press conference this morning in Dayton to announce their intention to go to court. The suit will claim McGuire’s 8th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution to avoid “cruel and unusual punishment” were violated when he gasped for air, choked and struggled against his restraints for about 10 minutes before being declared dead at 10:53 a.m.
“Shortly after the warden buttoned his jacket to signal the start of the execution, my dad began gasping and struggling to breathe,” Amber McGuire said in a statement. “I watched his stomach heave. I watched him try to sit up against the straps on the gurney. I watched him repeatedly clench his fist. It appeared to me he was fighting for his life but suffocating.” McGuire’s children were witnesses at his lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Dayton.
McGuire, 53, was executed for the brutal 1989 murder of Joy Stewart, 22, who was newly married and 30 weeks pregnant at the time of her death. McGuire raped Stewart vaginally and anally, choked her, stabbed her in the chest, and slit her throat. He dumped her body in the woods near Eaton, Ohio, where it was found the next day by two hikers.
There was no clear indication that the drug combination — never before used in a U.S. execution — triggered McGuire’s death struggles. But Allen Bohnert, one of McGuire’s federal public defenders, called the execution a “failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio.” McGuire died from an injection of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative. The two drugs had never been used before in an execution in the U.S. The state switched to the new drugs because pentobarbital, the single drug used before, is no longer available as manufacturers will not sell it for use in executions....
Ohioans to Stop Executions called for an immediate death-penalty moratorium after what it called the “horrific events.”
I will be very interested to see the specifics of this federal lawsuit, and I am especially interested in the remedy that will be sought in this matter. Because the person whose constitutional rights were allegedly violated is now dead, I do not think any kind of injunction concerning future executions would be a possible remedy to seek. In addition, the family cannot make a wrongful death claim because McGuire's death was his lawful punishment. Consequently, it would seem the family can only be making a claim for damages based on the alleged pain McGuire suffered over a twenty minute period. (And, I do not believe the family can seek any kind of punitive damages under usual federal civil rights laws for state constitutional violations.)
Recent related post:
- Ohio completes execution using novel two-drug lethal injection protocol... UPDATED with media reports of problems
Thursday, January 16, 2014
As reported in this new local article, headlined "Dennis McGuire executed using new 2-drug combination," the great state of Ohio has yet again pioneered and used a brand new execution protocol. Here are the details:
Dennis McGuire and his attorneys wanted his death to be pain-free. His lethal injection at 10:53 a.m. today appeared to be relatively calm and free of the panic and agony that McGuire’s attorneys feared would occur from the combination of drugs used together for the first time in a U.S. execution.
McGuire’s quiet, almost surreal death in a small, windowless room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility stood in bleak contrast to the violent, terrifying death suffered by his victim, Joy Stewart.
Stewart, 22, of West Alexandria, a small town about 20 miles west of Dayton, was about 30-weeks pregnant when McGuire raped her, choked her, and slashed her throat so deeply it severed both her carotid artery and jugular vein. At the same point, her unborn child died, too, probably in the woods in the rural area of Preble County where her body was found the next day by two hikers.
McGuire, 53, died from an injection of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative. The combination, never before used in a U.S. execution, was chosen by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction because pentobarbital, the single drug previously used, is no longer available. McGuire's attorneys argued unsuccessfully that the drugs could cause him to struggle for breath though something known as “air hunger,” and die painfully, a violation of a U.S. constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
Dennis McGuire's adult children, Amber and Dennis, along with Dennis’ wife, were among those who watched his execution. The inmate had a tearful visit with his children Carol Avery, the victim’s sister, also witnessed.
The execution had an unusually large media contingent on hand; in recent years, the media had dwindled away as executions became almost routine since Ohio re-instated in the death penalty in 1999. Outside, a handful of anti-death penalty protestors demonstrated as temperatures remain in the low 20s even after sunrise this morning.
UPDATE: Intriguingly, I have now seen that this CNN report on today's Ohio execution starts with this very different account of how it went:
Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire appeared to gasp and convulse for roughly 10 minutes before he finally died Thursday during his execution by lethal injection using a new combination of drugs, reporters who witnessed it said.
And the article I linked above from my own Columbus Dispatch as of 2:40pm now carries a much different headline and lead:
Killer struggles, gasps repeatedly under new 2-drug combination
Dennis McGuire struggled, repeatedly gasping loudly for air and making snorting and choking sounds, before succumbing to a new two-drug execution method today.
The 24-minute execution process was a “failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio,” said one of the killer’s attorneys, Allen Bohnert, a federal public defender. “The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled by what was done in their name.”
McGuire’s death by lethal injection at 10:53 a.m. may have been marked by the “air hunger” that McGuire’s attorneys feared would occur from the combination of drugs used for the first time in a U.S. execution.
“What we suggested to the court did happen,” said Bohnert, who refused to speculate on whether McGuire suffered. He also would not say whether further legal action would be pursued under the U.S. constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
Monday, January 13, 2014
Federal judge refuses to stop Ohio's plans to use novel execution method
As reported in this new AP piece, it looks now like Ohio is going to be able to go forward with its first planned execution of 2014. Here is why I was not sure about this before today:
A federal judge today refused to stop the upcoming execution of a condemned Ohio killer facing a never-tried lethal injection process that the inmate’s attorneys say will cause him agony and terror. Judge Gregory Frost’s ruling moved Dennis McGuire one step closer to execution by the two-drug method developed after supplies of Ohio’s former execution drug dried up. Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Parole Board have both rejected McGuire’s plea for clemency.
The judge said McGuire had failed to present evidence that he would suffer breathing problems alleged by his attorneys — a phenomenon known as “air hunger” — and said the risk to McGuire is within Constitutional limits. “The evidence before this court fails to present a substantial risk that McGuire will experience severe pain,” Frost said.
The judge rejected a similar request last year by death row inmate Ronald Phillips, who was set to become the first to die by the new method until Kasich delayed his execution to study the feasibility of Phillips’ donating organs to family members.
McGuire, 53, is scheduled to die Thursday for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of Joy Stewart in Preble County in western Ohio....
McGuire also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the execution on the grounds that the jury that sentenced him to die never got to hear the full extent of his chaotic and abusive childhood. In the lethal injection appeal, McGuire’s lawyers had asked Frost to delay the execution while they challenge the proposed two-drug system....
The state opposed any delay, presenting evidence that disputed the air hunger scenario. They called McGuire’s appeal an eleventh-hour request that was years too late....
Supplies of Ohio’s former execution drug, pentobarbital, dried up as its manufacturer put it off limits for executions. Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction plans to use a dose of midazolam, a sedative, combined with hydromorphone, a painkiller, to put McGuire to death.
Other death penalty states are being challenged by supply shortages. Missouri gave up attempts to use propofol over concerns the move could create a shortage of the popular anesthetic if the European Union, which opposes the death penalty, restricted its export. In Georgia, the state’s attempt to use a non-federally regulated dose of pentobarbital is the subject of a lawsuit.
The combination of drugs Ohio intends to use has never been used in a U.S. execution. They are included in Kentucky’s backup execution method, and Florida uses midazolam as part of its three-drug injection process.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Another new legal challenge as Ohio prepares to conduct an execution with another new protocol
As reported in this AP piece, headlined "Attorneys cite 'agony and terror' in untried execution method," Ohio has an execution scheduled for next week that is generate a new round of litigation because of a new execution method. Here are the basics:
Ohio's untried execution method, the first of its kind in the nation, will cause the condemned killer of a pregnant woman "agony and terror" as he struggles to breathe, attorneys trying to stop the execution argued in federal court.
The two-drug combination won't sedate death row inmate Dennis McGuire properly, and he will experience a suffocation-like syndrome known as air hunger, the attorneys said in filings Monday and Tuesday. The drugs were chosen because of a shortage of other lethal injection drugs.
Lawyers had also asked Gov. John Kasich to spare McGuire on the grounds that a jury never got to hear the full details of his chaotic and abusive childhood and abuse. Kasich rejected that request without comment Tuesday. The governor typically does not give a reason when he turns down clemency requests by death row inmates.
McGuire, 53, is scheduled to die Jan. 16 for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of Joy Stewart in Preble County in western Ohio. McGuire's lawyers asked federal judge Gregory Frost to delay the execution while they challenge the proposed lethal injection system. "McGuire will experience the agony and terror of air hunger as he struggles to breathe for five minutes after defendants intravenously inject him with the execution drugs," the inmate's attorneys said in a Monday court filing.
They also said McGuire exhibits several symptoms of sleep apnea, which could exacerbate the problem. The dose planned for McGuire isn't enough to properly sedate him, meaning he'll experience "the horrifying sensation" of being unable to breathe, Harvard anesthesiology professor David Waisel said in a Tuesday filing in support of the inmate.
A message was left with the Ohio attorney general's office, which was expected to oppose McGuire's filing. Frost scheduled a Friday hearing. Supplies of Ohio's former execution drug, pentobarbital, dried up as its manufacturer put it off limits for executions. It's a challenge facing other death penalty states as well.
Missouri gave up attempts to use propofol over concerns the move could create a shortage of the popular anesthetic if the European Union, which opposes the death penalty, restricted its export. In Georgia, the state's attempt to use a non-federally regulated dose of pentobarbital is the subject of a lawsuit.
Instead, Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction plans to use a dose of midazolam, a sedative, combined with hydromorphone, a painkiller, to put McGuire to death.
That combination of drugs has never been used in a U.S. execution. They are included in Kentucky's backup execution method, while Florida uses midazolam as part of its three-drug injection process.
Regular readers know that there is a long history of notable developments in Ohio as a result of federal court litigation over new execution methods. It will be interesting to watch how this round of the litigation plays out.
Notable (and amusing?) account of an execution method gone to the dogs
In various settings, some folks are quick to point out that the United States is uniquely punitivie in its use of imprisonment compared to all other nations in the world and also that the United States is one of the few nations in the western world to make continued and somewhat regular use of the death penalty. And advocates for sentencing and corrections reform (myself included) sometimes contend that the US ought to try to learn from the policies and practices of other nations. These realities came to mind when I read this notable recent article sent my way by a helpful reader reporting on a recent high-profile sentencing and punishment in another part of the world:
The execution of Jang Song Thaek, the No. 2 man in North Korea, took Beijing by surprise and will adversely affect bilateral relations. Beijing's displeasure is expressed through the publication of a detailed account of Jang's brutal execution in Wen Wei Po, its official mouthpiece, in Hong Kong, on Dec 12.
According to the report, unlike previous executions of political prisoners which were carried out by firing squads with machine guns, Jang was stripped naked and thrown into a cage, along with his five closest aides. Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up. This is called "quan jue", or execution by dogs.
The report said the entire process lasted for an hour, with Mr Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader in North Korea, supervising it along with 300 senior officials. The horrifying report vividly depicted the brutality of the young North Korean leader. The fact that it appeared in a Beijing-controlled newspaper showed that China no longer cares about its relations with the Kim regime.
Amusingly, as this new Reuters piece reports, it now appears that the "international media frenzy over reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle had been executed by throwing him to a pack of dogs appears to have originated as satire on a Chinese microblogging website." Here is more:
One of the pitfalls of reporting on North Korea is that few independent media have offices there and visiting media are tightly controlled in a country which ranks among the lowest in global surveys of press freedom. Because of the lack of first hand information, many lurid stories about the country gain credence.
Trevor Powell, a Chicago-based software engineer, who first spotted the link to the Weibo post and reported it on his own blog said that analysts and experts were "still all missing the obvious fact that the original source of the Wen Wei Po story was a tweet from a known satirist or someone posing as him/her." Powell blogged about the post here.
Monday, December 30, 2013
NY Times editorial talks of "Slow Demise of Capital Punishment"
The title of this new New York Times editorial, "The Slow Demise of Capital Punishment," is probably better viewed as wishful thinking rather than a sound prediction. Nevertheless, as excerpted below, the New York Times editorial board makes its most potent pitch against the death penalty in this piece:
More states are coming to recognize that the death penalty is arbitrary, racially biased and prone to catastrophic error. Even those that have not abolished capital punishment are no longer carrying it out in practice.
In 2013, Maryland became the sixth state to end capital punishment in the last six years. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the penalty, and it is dormant in the federal system and the military. Thirty states have had no executions in the last five years.
As it becomes less frequent, the death penalty also becomes more limited to an extremely small slice of the country, and therefore all the more arbitrary in its application. All 80 death sentences in 2013 came from only about 2 percent of counties in the entire country, and all 39 executions — more than half occurred in Texas and Florida — took place in about 1 percent of all counties, according to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center. Eighty-five percent of all counties have not had a single execution in more than 45 years.
Public support for the death penalty — an important factor in the Supreme Court’s consideration of its constitutionality — is at its lowest level in four decades, and 40 percent of people surveyed by Gallup say they do not believe it is administered fairly....
Of course none of this matters to, say, Troy Davis or Cameron Todd Willingham, both of whom were executed in recent years despite deep doubts about their guilt. Nor is it of much use to the 3,100 people still sitting on death row around the country.
The argument is not that all of these people are innocent, or that they deserve to be released. Most would be justly imprisoned for most if not all of their life. But the death penalty as applied in America now — so thoroughly dependent on where the defendant lives and how much money he can spend on his defense — violates the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection, and no longer can overcome the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.
The dishonor and shame of capital punishment are further highlighted by the current shortage of lethal-injection drugs, a “crisis” resulting from the refusal of European drug makers to provide them for executions. As a result, states that use lethal injection have turned to unregulated compounding pharmacies, and have even passed laws to hide the identity of those pharmacies and the chemical makeup of the drugs. This only underscores the fact that when it comes to the death penalty, the United States is virtually alone in the Western world.
Actually, all of these developments are in fact of great "use to the 3,100 people still sitting on death row around the country." Given that all these developments help explain why the US now averages less than 50 executions each year (and only a few dozen outside of Texas), the vast majority of murderers serving death sentences now should know that they are far more likely to die of old age in prison rather than in an execution chamber. (And, perhaps better yet for these murderers, their legal appeals are far more likely to get extra attention from lawyers and judges than the tens of thousands of defendants serving life sentences for lesser crimes.)
Friday, December 13, 2013
Splitting 5-4 along party lines, SCOTUS vacates stay to allow Mizzou to complete novel execution
Distracted by other stories yesterday, I only now discovered that the US Supreme Court issued late Wednesday night this order (which, as I will explain below, strikes me as a pretty big deal):
The application to vacate the stay of execution of sentence of death entered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on December 9, 2013, presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court, is granted.
Justice Ginsburg with whom Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan join, dissenting.
I would deny the application to vacate the stay of execution entered by the Court of Appeals. See Bowersox v. Williams, 517 U.S. 345, 347 (1996) (GINSBURG, J., dissenting) (“At the very least, before acting irretrievably, this Court might have invited prompt clarification of the Court of Appeals’ [stay] order. Appreciation of our own fallibility, and respect for the judgment of an appellate tribunal closer to the scene than we are, as I see it, demand as much.”).
The start and end of this lengthy AP article about the execution which followed this SCOTUS ruling accounts for why I think this order is a pretty big deal:
Allen Nicklasson once recalled the "euphoria" he felt after fatally shooting a kindly businessman who stopped to help when he saw Nicklasson's car stalled on Interstate 70 near Kingdom City, Mo., in 1994.
Late Wednesday night, Nicklasson was put to death for Richard Drummond's killing — nearly 23 hours after he was originally scheduled to die. It was the second execution in Missouri in three weeks after a nearly three-year hiatus. Racist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin was executed Nov. 20.
The executions also were the first since Missouri switched from a three-drug protocol to use of a single drug, pentobarbital. Nicklasson, 41, was pronounced dead at 10:52 p.m. Wednesday, eight minutes after the process began. His eyes remained closed throughout and he showed little reaction to the drug, briefly breathing heavily about 2 minutes into the process. He offered no final words....
Nicklasson's execution was originally scheduled for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. But an appeals court panel granted a stay of execution Monday, citing concerns about his counsel at trial and sentencing in 1996.
When the full appeals court refused to take up the case Tuesday, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It did not return its 5-4 decision to vacate the stay until 10:07 p.m. Wednesday, with Justices Ruth Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissenting. Gov. Jay Nixon refused to grant clemency.
Missouri previously used a three-drug method for executions but changed protocols after drugmakers stopped selling the lethal drugs to prisons and corrections departments. The pentobarbital used in Missouri executions comes from an undisclosed compounding pharmacy — the Missouri Department of Corrections declines to say who makes the drug, or where.
My general sense and understanding is that it is relatively rare for the Supreme Court, especially at the last minute, to vacate a lower court's stay in a capital case, especially if and when that stay was entered by a circuit which does not have a long history of getting in the way of state executions. Moreover, in addition to the legal issues that led to the stay, I think the defendant here was also seeking a stay in order to be able to question and assail Missouri's new lethal injection drugs and method.
Given that the four more liberal Justices were obviously eager to allow the stay of this execution to remain in place, I find it notable and seemingly important that the more conservative Justices were able to get swing Justice Kennedy to vote to vacate the stay and enable the Mizzou execution to be carried out. Particularly given that, over the last few years, aggressive lower-court litigation has probably played more of a role in reducing the total number of executions than many other factors, I cannot help but wonder if this decision represents a kind of (indirect?) statement by a majority of the Supreme Court that, at least for brutal killers who've already gotten to live on death row for decades, enough is enough.
Especially because this SCOTUS order is only an order and has not generated much attention at all, I may be guilty of trying to make this decision more of a big deal than it is. Nevertheless, especially as another year filled with capital habeas litigation winds to a close, I cannot help be think this may be an interesting and telling sign of future SCOTUS capital rulings to come.
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.