Executions

Federal Court Reviewing Ohio's Untried Lethal Injection Procedure

On January 10, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost will consider a challenge to an execution procedure in Ohio that has never been used before in the country. Dennis McGuire is scheduled for execution on January 16, and his attorneys are arguing the new drugs could cause a very painful death, saying, "McGuire will experience the agony and terror of air hunger as he struggles to breathe for five minutes after [executioners] intravenously inject him with the execution drugs." The new lethal injection procedure will use midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller. Judge Frost has heard prior challenges to Ohio's execution procedures and has criticized the state for carrying out haphazard executions and not adequately following its own protocols.

Missouri Obtaining Lethal Injection Drug From Pharmacy Unlicensed in State

An investigation by St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon found that the source of Missouri's lethal injection drug, pentobarbital, is a compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma, not licensed to sell drugs in Missouri. Until very recently, compounding pharmacies have been regulated only by state pharmacy boards, not by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Thus, a pharmacy in Oklahoma may be held to different standards than one in Missouri. Ned Milenkovich, a pharmacist and attorney who serves on the Illinois Board of Pharmacy, said, “The purpose of the board is not to protect the pharmacy and the pharmacist but to protect the public of the state and the citizens of Missouri in this case," adding that out-of-state pharmacies are legally required to be registered in the state to which they send drugs. The legality of the Department of Corrections obtaining execution drugs from an out-of-state pharmacy is uncertain. A federal judge described the execution drug source, which the state has fought to keep secret, as a “shadow pharmacy hidden by the hangman’s hood.”

Upcoming Death Penalty Events in 2014

As the new year begins, there are several notable events related to the death penalty likely to occur in the next few months. The first execution of the year is scheduled for January 7 in Florida. The execution of Askari Muhammad had originally been scheduled for December 3, 2013, but was stayed due to a challenge to the state's new execution protocol. The Florida Supreme Court approved the new protocol, and the execution was rescheduled, though legal challenges are continuing in federal court. Ohio has scheduled the execution of Dennis McGuire for January 16, and the state plans to use a lethal injection protocol never tried before in any state. Ohio will use midazolam and hydromorphone, drugs formerly listed in the state's backup procedure. This latest change in Ohio was caused by a shortage of the drug pentobarbital, after restrictions on its use were imposed by its European manufacturer. On January 22, Texas is scheduled to execute Edgar Tamayo, a Mexican citizen who was denied consular access at the time of his arrest, in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Objections to the execution have been raised by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and by numerous other governments. On March 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hall v. Florida, a challenge to Florida's strict procedure for determining intellectual disability in capital cases. The Court previously ruled that intellectually disabled defendants are barred from execution.

FROM DPIC: Extensive News Coverage of Year End Report

National and local media have focused significant attention on DPIC's recent 2013 Year End Report. Coverage has included pieces in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, CNN, on the wires of the Associated Press and Reuters, and in hundreds of other articles and editorials. Papers highlighted the main theme of the report, which showed a continuing decline in the use of the death penalty around the country. The New York Times quoted DPIC's Executive Director, Richard Dieter, as commenting that “A societal shift is underway.” The Associated Press quoted Dieter saying, "I think the decline begins with the revelations about mistakes in capital cases - that innocent people could get the penalty and almost be executed has shocked the public to the point where death sentences are harder to obtain."

Toobin on America's Ambivalence Toward the Death Penalty

Jeffrey Toobin, writing in The New Yorker, used the current scramble among states to procure the drugs for lethal injections as a paradigm of the much longer effort to make the death penalty palatable to the American public. "The story of the death penalty in this country," he wrote, "illustrates a characteristically American faith in a technological solution to any problem." However, Toobin concluded, technology can not cover up the broader problems of capital punishment: "The oxymoronic quest for humane executions only accentuates the absurdity of allowing the death penalty in a civilized society." He ended highlighting the declining public support for the death penalty, as well as the drop in executions and death sentences across the country.

DPIC Releases 2013 Report, Showing Marked Decline in Death Penalty Use

On December 19, the Death Penalty Information Center released its annual report on the latest developments in capital punishment, "The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report." In 2013, executions declined, fewer states imposed death sentences, and the size of death row decreased compared to the previous year. The number of states with the death penalty also dropped, and public support for capital punishment registered a 40-year low. There were 39 executions in the U.S., marking only the second time in 19 years that there were less than 40. Just two states, Texas (16) and Florida (7), were responsible for 59% of the executions. The number of death sentences (80) remained near record lows, and several major death penalty states, inclucing Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana, imposed no death sentences this year. Maryland became the sixth state in six years to abolish capital punishment. “Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report. “The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades. More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice.”

NEW VOICES: A Doctor Challenges the Medical Model of U.S. Executions

As an anesthesiologist, Dr. Joel Zivot applied some of the same drugs in operating rooms as are used in executions in the U.S. He admired their life-saving qualities for patients, but bridled at their use in taking lives. Writing recently in USA Today, he cautioned against this "poisonous" use of medicines, saying, "States may choose to execute their citizens, but when they employ lethal injection, they are not practicing medicine. They are usurping the tools and arts of the medical trade and propagating a fiction." Dr. Zivot is a professor of anesthesiology at Emory University School of Medicine. In his op-ed, he called for a halt to all use of anesthetics in executions: "From an ethical perspective, I cannot make the case that a medicine in short supply should preferentially be used to kill rather than to heal."  Read the op-ed below.

Lethal Injection Challenges Delay Executions in Florida, Missouri, Georgia

Legal challenges to new lethal injection procedures have delayed executions in Florida and Missouri this week. Similar challenges halted executions in Georgia in July. On November 18, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a hearing on the state's new execution protocol and stayed the execution of Askari Muhammad, who had been scheduled for execution on December 3. The hearing will examine "the efficacy of midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the amount prescribed by Florida's protocol." Florida is the first state to use midazolam in executions, having carried out two executions using this drug in combination with 2 other drugs. In Missouri, a federal judge stayed the execution of Joseph Franklin on November 19, calling the state's execution protocol, "a frustratingly moving target." She said that the Department of Corrections "has not provided any information about the certification, inspection history, infraction history, or other aspects of the compounding pharmacy or of the person compounding the drug." The stay was lifted hours later by a higher court, and Franklin was executed on November 20, though other challenges to the execution process continue. Earlier this year, a Georgia Superior Court judge stayed the execution of Warren Hill, questioning the constitutionality of the law that classified information on execution drugs as "confidential state secrets." 

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