The three final executions scheduled in 2022 highlighted broader trends in the year’s executions — the execution of vulnerable defendants, unavailability of lethal-injection drugs, and the scheduling of executions without regard for the ability to actually carry them out. Mississippi executed Thomas “Eddie” Loden Jr. (pictured) on December 14, the 18th execution of the year, while two executions set for December 15 — John Hanson’s in Oklahoma and Gerald Pizzuto Jr.’s in Idaho — did not take place.

In all, 33 of the 51 executions scheduled for the year (65%) did not go forward. Ten were halted by judicial stays, 17 by gubernatorial reprieves, two execution attempts failed when execution personnel were unable to set IV lines, two death warrants expired without the execution being attempted, and one execution date was removed.

Loden suffered from significant vulnerabilities emblematic of those present for most of the prisoners executed in 2022. At least 13 of the 18 people executed in 2022 had one or more of the following impairments: serious mental illness (8); brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the intellectually disabled range (5); and/or chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect, and/or abuse (12). Including Loden, half (9) of those executed in 2022 had spent at least 20 years on death row, a period of time that has been recognized by international human rights bodies as constituting “excessive and inhuman” punishment, in violation of U.S. human rights obligations.

Loden experienced chronic trauma as a child in the form of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. He attempted suicide five times. After graduating high school, he became a Marine and received several awards and medals for his service, but his combat service in the Gulf War left him with PTSD. Loden was the fourth military veteran executed in 2022. Loden pleaded guilty at trial and waived his right to a jury and the presentation of mitigating evidence. Post-conviction attorneys would later argue that he was advised to do so by trial counsel who failed to investigate the case.

Executions scheduled for December 15 in Idaho and Oklahoma could not go forward because of state administrative failures. Idaho scheduled Gerald Pizzuto, Jr. without the drugs on hand to carry it out. When the Idaho Department of Correction was unable to obtain the drugs in the short window provided by the warrant, it advised the courts that the execution would not happen. Oklahoma set an execution date for John Hanson even though he was in federal custody and the state had not made arrangements for him to be transferred to the state for execution. His death warrant, too, was allowed to expire when Oklahoma was unable to secure his transfer.

Idaho prosecutors sought and obtained a death warrant for Pizzuto after a legal battle earlier in the year over whether the governor or Commission of Pardons and Parole held final clemency authority in the state. In 2021, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole had voted 4-3 to recommend clemency for Pizzuto, citing his significant health problems, including terminal cancer. Governor Brad Little rejected the recommendation but an Idaho trial court agreed with Pizzuto that he lacked the authority to do so. The Idaho Supreme Court overturned that ruling and prosecutors moved for an execution date without confirming that that the Idaho Department of Corrections had access to the lethal-injection drugs necessary to carry out the execution.

On November 30, 2022, Idaho Deputy Attorney General L. LaMont Anderson notified a federal district court that the state would allow the death warrant to expire because it could not obtain execution drugs. “Our efforts to obtain the necessary chemicals have been unsuccessful to date,” Idaho Department of Corrections Director Josh Tewalt said in a memorandum. “While our efforts to secure chemicals remain ongoing, I have no reason to believe our status will change prior to the scheduled execution on December 15, 2022. In my professional judgement, I believe it is in the best interest of justice to allow the death warrant to expire and stand down our execution preparation.”

“The State’s decision to get a death warrant while being unprepared for an execution led to a tremendous amount of unnecessary and costly litigation, all at taxpayer expense,” Pizzuto’s lawyer, Deb Czuba, said in a statement.

Oklahoma was also unprepared to carry out the scheduled December 15 execution of John Hanson. At the time prosecutors sought and obtained his death warrant, Hanson was serving a life sentence in federal prison for armed robberies unrelated to his Oklahoma death sentence. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections subsequently requested that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) transfer Hanson to the custody of the state. In October, the BOP refused Oklahoma’s transfer request, curtly stating that the transfer “is not in the public’s best interest.” Oklahoma filed suit in federal court, arguing that BOP officials lacked the authority to deny their request. Oklahoma prosecutors chose to file their complaint in a federal judicial district in which Hanson was not in custody so that the case would be heard by a judge prosecutors believed would offer the state a favorable forum. Ultimately, on December 13, Judge Reed O’Connor denied Oklahoma’s request, dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction.

The actions by Idaho and Oklahoma in setting execution dates without assurances that they could be carried out culminated a year of administrative recklessness and incompetence in seeking to conduct executions without regard to or in defiance of practical or legal prerequisites for carrying them out. Earlier in 2022, South Carolina scheduled the executions of Brad Sigmon and Richard Moore. The South Carolina Supreme Court halted their executions in April to permit a trial court to consider their legal challenge to the state’s execution protocols. It was the third time the court had stayed their executions. The state had first scheduled the men to be by lethal injection without having a supply of drugs to carry them out. After state law was amended to provide for execution by electric chair or firing squad if drugs were unavailable, prosecutors sought and obtained death warrants to execute the men by electric chair before the state had prepared a protocol for the firing-squad option. The court stayed those execution dates, finding that the planned executions violated the state-law requirement that the prisoners be permitted to select firing squad instead of death by electrocution. After the South Carolina Department of Corrections adopted a firing squad protocol, prosecutors sought a third set of death warrants, without providing any evidence of their efforts to locate execution drugs. The prisoners sued to block the executions, saying prosecutors had not shown that drugs were unavailable and that both the electric chair and the firing squad violated South Carolina’s constitutional prohibition against “cruel, unusual, and corporal punishments.” That led to the third set of orders by the South Carolina Supreme Court stopping the scheduled executions.

In September, after hearing four days of expert testimony, the trial trial court ruled in favor of the prisoners’ state constitutional challenge and  issued an injunction  against executions by firing squad or electric chair. JThe South Carolina Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the appeal in the case January 5, 2023.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee stayed the execution of Oscar Smith in April just before it was scheduled to start after he was informed that execution personnel had failed to test the execution drugs for bacterial contamination, as required by the state’s execution protocol. Citing a “technical oversight” in preparations for Smith’s execution, Lee called off all executions in his state and ordered an “independent review” of the state’s execution protocol. A series of articles published in May in The Tennesseanrevealed mistakes and questionable conduct at every step of the lethal-injection process, from the compounding of the execution drugs by a pharmacy with a problematic safety history, to testing procedures, to the storage and handling of the drugs once they were in the possession of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). A series of botched execution attempts also led Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to call for a halt to executions in her state in November for a “top-to-bottom review” of the state’s execution protocol..


Sean Murphy, Judge rules against Oklahoma in attempt to exe­cute inmate, Associated Press, December 13, 2022; Mina Corpuz, Marine’s trou­bled life set to end with exe­cu­tion, Mississippi Today, December 142022