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May 22, 2014

Has the ugly execution in Oklahoma succeeded in slowing US machineries of death?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the notable new reality that, after Missouri's effort to carry out an execution on Wednesday was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court (CNN story here), it now appears that there will not be an execution in the United States during the month of May. In addition, as detailed in this listing from the Death Penalty Information Center, it appears that only a handful of serious execution dates are scheduled for the coming summer months.

Of course, a host of factors both legal and extra-legal explain why in recent years the US has averaged only three to four executions a month, whereas 15 years ago the US averaged more than twice as many executions. Notably, though, in 2014 the pace of executions throughout the United States had ticked up with 20 executions completed in five different states over the first four months of the year. But in the wake of Oklahoma making very messy the execution of Clayton Lockett, it now seems that a set of various factors and actors are gumming up the works of machineries of death throughout the United States.

I suspect Texas and perhaps a few other states without a history of problematic executions will be able to carry out death sentences in the months ahead. So I do not think it is right to suggest that the ugly Oklahoma execution created a de facto moratorium. Still, it seems more than a coincidence that the US in 2014 was on pace for 60 executions for the first time in a decade until Oklahoma messed up and now we are on track to go perhaps a few months with very few executions.

A few recent related posts:

May 22, 2014 at 10:53 AM | Permalink


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Judges are slowing executions.
What is a "machinery of death"?

Posted by: Adamakis | May 22, 2014 12:46:32 PM

The machine in Kafka's In the Penal Colony, which killed the condemned by repeatedly tattooing the law/commandment the condemned had broken all over his body until he died.

Posted by: Fred | May 22, 2014 6:03:06 PM

I think the Bucklew execution in Missouri had some new issues that the Courts did not have time to rule on as well as they would have liked. His attorney waited until 2 days before the execution to ask the US District Court for a stay due to his unusual health issues.The execution order was issued over 30 days before. An evidentiary hearing could have been completed on the record and could have avoided the last minute litigation.

Texas had one execution delayed by Atkins issues and an Ohio one was commuted. I don't see this being an issue in other states, although I am sure the judges are aware as in the Georgia Supreme Court case recently handed down. I am sure Georgia has several inmates who are warrant ready which will fill the gap Oklahoma has left.

Posted by: DaveP | May 22, 2014 7:33:23 PM

I didn't know of the Kafka reference. The term brings to mind Blackmun's dissent in Callins v. Collins.

DaveP's comment is telling. I think the Missouri case is a special situation but it will continue elsewhere. OTOH, there continues to be problems, though the specifics might change. I'm not sure the latest thing is too different in the ongoing theme.

Posted by: Joe | May 23, 2014 11:03:59 AM

Silly me, I thought when a defendant filed a suit in federal court two days before his execution, the law pretty much required that a stay be denied. But the Supreme Court stayed anyway. How is this not utterly lawless, and why should anyone else follow the Supreme Court if it cannot even follow its own rules?

Missouri should have made it impossible for the stay order to be served. There is nothing that says that a state has to cooperate with service of process.

Posted by: federalist | May 23, 2014 9:00:49 PM


" There is nothing that says that a state has to cooperate with service of process"

Wrong. Where you been the last few decades. Interference with police even with a tap on the shoulder can bring expensive legal fees at a minimum. Then there is the ever popular interference with a police investigation when you refuse to testify even if it means your life to do so. As well as refusing to bear your soul to a gov't stooge from Children services.. Try again.

What makes you think gov't is escused from the same rules the rest of us have to deal with?

Posted by: rodsmith | May 24, 2014 2:22:21 AM


In the Penal Colony is a short story that can be read in one sitting. It's not light reading and you can't be sure where Kafka is coming from. But it is about the death penalty.

I haven't read it in a long time. There is a debate between the executioner and the visitor. The machine is described by the executioner as usually taking 12 hours to kill the condemned. According to the executioner, after about 6 hours, the condemned has a mystical/religious experience where he understands his wrongful behavior, accepts his
fate, and is at peace. The visitor scoffs at this. So the executioner straps himself in the machine and causes it to tattoo on him "Be just." The machine malfunctions and stabs the executioner to death before the anticipated moment of enlightenment.

Posted by: Fred | May 25, 2014 7:23:22 PM

Missouri should enact a Firing Squad of Six statute and quit being so timid about how they kill humans. I would rather be shot than be poisoned. Now the Oklahoma method, death by needle injection in the groin, has got to take the cake. World wide. Would Iran do this? Not one country in the world would follow the Oklahoma example. The Governor was over heard bragging about it.

Posted by: Liberty1st | May 25, 2014 7:33:34 PM

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