LETHAL INJECTION: Execution Process Often Masked Behind a Veil of Secrecy

Controversies surrounding the lethal drugs used in U.S. executions continue to arise in many states.  Documents obtained by the Associated Press reveal the secretive process in which the Delaware Department of Corrections obtained the drugs necessary for the its lethal injection process. Delaware officials solicited the help of the state’s Economic Development Director, Alan Levin, in obtaining lethal injection drugs after its previous supply expired in 2005. Levin, the former head of the Happy Harry’s drugstore chain, contacted the CEO of Cardinal Health Inc., a supplier of pentobarbital. "I was happy to help facilitate it," said Levin, explaining that Happy Harry's, which he sold in 2006 to Walgreen Co., had done business with Cardinal for a decade or more.  "I understand the judicial system," said Levin, a former prosecutor who added that he believes in the death penalty.  DOC Commissioner Carl Danberg wrote in an e-mail to key lieutenants, “This is NOT for discussion or distribution to anyone, including your own staff until we get a chance to discuss… Emphasize that I do not want this discussed yet. Certainly not until the drugs are on hand. I am not even telling the AG yet.” The batch of drugs was delivered last June and was used in the lethal injection of Shannon Johnson, who was executed on April 20.

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STUDIES: Researchers Find Racial Disparities in Delaware's Death Penalty

A new study published on the Social Science Resource Network by a group of professors at Cornell University found a high incidence of racial disparities in the operation of Delaware’s death penalty. The study, published in conjunction with a symposium honoring the late David Baldus (pictured), examined the state’s death penalty since 1972 and found:
- Of 49 defendants sentenced to death since 1972, 53% were black, 39% were white, and 8% were Hispanic or Native American. In contrast, 69% of Delaware’s population is white, 21% is black, and 8% are Hispanic.
- Thirty-five of the 49 cases (73%) involved a white victim. Of the current death row inmates, 59% were convicted of murdering white victims and 41% were convicted of murdering black victims.
- Of the current death row population in Delaware, 59% are black, 23% are white, and 18% are Hispanic. Combined, the minority population comprises 77% of the state's death row. Nationally, the minority population accounts for approximately 56% of the death row population.
- Even when compared to southern states, Delaware's rate of death sentencing for black defendants with white victims is unusually high; it is 75 percent higher than the next highest states, Georgia and Nevada, more than twice as high as that of South Carolina or Virginia, and more than three times as high as that of its near neighbors, Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Read full text of study here.

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Delaware Death Row Inmate Granted Clemency, Citing Evidence of Severe Childhood Abuse

On January 17, Delaware Governor Jack Markell commuted the death sentence of Robert Gattis (pictured) to life without parole, citing the defendant's troubled childhood. Gattis was scheduled for execution on January 20. By a 4-1 vote, the Delaware Board of Pardons had recommended sparing Gattis’s life, citing evidence from Gattis’s childhood that indicated severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by family members. In granting clemency, Gov. Markell stated: "Even if one were to discount certain of the allegations of sexual abuse recently alleged by Mr. Gattis (as the Board did), the fact remains that Mr. Gattis’s family background is among the most troubling I have encountered… My decision is among the most difficult I have had to make in all my years in public service. But in light of the Board’s unprecedented decision and the reasons set forth above, I believe it is the correct one under the circumstances.”  As a condition of clemency, Gattis must agree not to challenge his conviction or sentence and to not request a further commutation.

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UPCOMING EXECUTION: Extreme Childhood Abuse of Delaware Defendant Never Presented to Jury

On January 3, attorneys for Robert Gattis (pictured) filed a clemency petition with the Delaware Board of Pardons, requesting they recommend commuting his death sentence to life without parole.  Gattis is scheduled for execution on January 20.  According to the petition, details of frequent sexual, physical and psychological abuse occuring during Gattis's childhood were never presented to the jury or the judge at the time of his sentencing.  As a pre-school child and through adolescence, Gattis was the victim of repeated rapes and molestations by multiple perpetrators, including both male and female family members.  John Deckers, an attorney for Gattis said, “The kind of sexual, physical and psychological abuse that Mr. Gattis suffered is precisely the kind of information that a sentencing judge and jury should know when deciding whether to sentence someone to life or death, but Mr. Gattis's sentencing judge and jury never knew this information.  They did not have an accurate picture of Mr. Gattis or the crime, and clemency is the mechanism that allows the Governor to correct such mistakes in the legal system.”  A pardons-board recommendation for clemency is necessary for Governor Jack Markell to commute the sentence.  Gattis was sentenced to death in 1992 for killing his former girlfriend.

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