EDITORIAL: "There is No 'Humane' Execution"

A recent New York Times editorial commented on the new one-drug lethal injection protocol used in Ohio for the first time on December 8, but concluded that "the execution only reinforced that any form of capital punishment is legally suspect and morally wrong."  The Times agreed with the late Justice Harry Blackmun who called such manipulations “tinker[ing] with the machinery of death.”  The editorial also noted the risks of exeucting the innocent: "It has also become clear — particularly since DNA evidence has become more common — how unreliable the system is. Since 1973, 139 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were innocent, according to the Death Penalty Information Center."  The editors ended by saying that repealing the death penalty "is the way to eliminate the inevitable problems with executions."  Read the full editorial below.

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Ohio Inmate Challenges New Execution Method Before Dec. 8 Date

Kenneth Biros, who is scheduled for execution in Ohio on December 8, requested an emergency stay of execution in U.S. District Court, arguing that Ohio is moving too fast to use its new, one-drug lethal injection process. Last month, Ohio became the first state to adopt a one-drug lethal injection protocol when its three-drug method came under scrutiny following the botched execution attempt on death row inmate Romell Broom.  Biros claims that "the untested method announced last month could jeopardize his right to an execution that does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment," and that "moving ahead with the process would amount to human experimentation with a system never been used before in the United States or any other country."

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Supreme Court Justices Disagree About Lengthy Time on Death Row

Justices John Paul Stevens and Clarence Thomas disagreed over whether to grant a stay of execution to Cecil Johnson, Jr., who was was convicted of murder in a 1980 shooting at a convenience store in Tennessee. Johnson had been on death row for nearly three decades. Justice Stevens said this lengthy time between his sentencing and execution could amount to cruel and unusual punishment: "[T]he delay itself subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement," especially when most of the delay was caused by the state. Justice Breyer concurred with Stevens.  Both Justices have long urged their colleagues to address the issue of the extensive time inmates spend on death row.

Justice Thomas reacted strongly to Stevens's assertion, claiming that "as long as our system affords capital defendants the procedural safeguards this court has long endorsed, defendants who avail themselves of these procedures will face the delays Justice Stevens laments."

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Kentucky Supreme Court Puts Death Penalty on Hold

On November 25, the Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that changes to the state's lethal injection protocol were not properly adopted and must be submitted for public review and approval before executions can take place.  According to the opinion, "[T]his Court cannot ignore the publication and public hearing requirements set forth in Kentucky statutes. Thus, the Department must proceed . . . to adopt as an administrative regulation all portions of the protocol implementing the lethal injection statute except those involving purely internal matters . . . ."  In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed  Kentucky's procedures for lethal injection and found them constitutional under the Eighth Amendment in Baze v. Rees.  The  new Kentucky ruling concluded, "The drug protocol outlined in Baze v. Rees . . . indisputably affects private rights and must be properly adopted . . . before the Department proceeds with further executions."

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Ohio Proposes Major Change to Its Execution Process

On November 13, Ohio announced that it was adopting a single-drug protocol for lethal injection, making it the first state to embrace this change.  Ohio will inject inmates with a large dose of an anesthetic, thiopental sodium, which is supposed to both render the inmate unconscious and eventually cause death. The state also said it will employ a back-up method of execution involving the injection of two anesthetic drugs into the muscle of the defendant.  In September, Ohio failed in its execution of Romell Broom, halting the process after two hours when guards could not find a suitable vein for the injection. Subsequent executions were placed on hold as state officials sought more effective ways of administering lethal injection. The state had been having a hard time finding medical personnel to consult with about lethal injection procedures because of professional and ethical rules that generally prohibit doctors, nurses and others from being involved in capital punishment. Read the Associated Press article about this development below.

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EDITORIALS: "Time for America to Move Past Capital Punishment"

A recent editorial from the Aurora Sentinel in Colorado commented on the botched execution of Romell Broom.  The paper entitled its position as “Time for America to move past capital punishment.” In addition to citing the problems with lethal injection, the paper noted the risk of executing the innocent and the U.S.'s increasing isolation on the death penalty in the world.  The editorial continuted, "Even for those who believe that such heinous criminals deserve to die, our society becomes dangerously base if we promote these kinds of deaths.“  Read the entire editorial below.

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NEW VOICES: Judge Says Death Penalty "too fraught with variables to survive"

Retired Federal Appeals Court Judge H. Lee Sarokin recently offered a harsh critique of the death penalty, especially challenging the botched execution attempt of Romell Broom in Ohio in September. Citing morality, arbitrariness, and the dim prospects of closure for the murder victims’ families, Judge Sarokin called the imposition of the death penalty an erratic and flawed process that should not be permitted to continue. “The system is too fraught with variables to survive. Whether or not one receives the death penalty depends upon the discretion of the prosecutor who initiates the proceeding, the competence of counsel who represents the defendant, the race of the victim, the race of the defendant, the make-up of the jury, the attitude of the judge, and the attitude and make-up of the appellate courts that review the verdict.“

Regarding Ohio's lethal injection process, Judge Sarokin said it would be unconstitutional to subject the defendant to a second execution attempt: “It is impossible to imagine what it must be like to know that you are going to be put to death, have numerous efforts fail, and then have to face the prospect again at a later date! If that isn't cruel and unusual punishment, I do not know what is!“ He continued, “Double jeopardy prohibits a person from being tried twice for the same crime. Should it not protect a person from being subjected to execution twice for the same crime?“ Read the entire article below.

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Ohio Executions Put on Hold; Governor Concurs

Lawrence Reynolds, who was scheduled to be executed on October 8 in Ohio, received a stay today (Oct. 5) from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  The court's stay was based on unresolved issues in Ohio's lethal injection protocol that were brought to the surface by the unsuccessful execution of Romell Broom on September 15.  The majority wrote: "These disturbing issues give rise to at least two questions: first, whether Ohio is fully and competently adhering to the Ohio lethal injection protocol given (a) their failure to have a contingency plan in place should peripheral vein access be impossible, (b) issues related to the competence of the lethal injection team, and (c) other potential deficiencies; and second, whether these instances present sufficient new, additional factors to revive Reynolds’ Eighth Amendment claims otherwise extinguished by Cooey II (an earlier lethal injection challenge).”

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Chronology of A Failed Execution

The partial timeline below of the attempted execution of Romell Broom in Ohio on Sept. 15 was compiled by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 17, 2009; reporter Peter Krouse.  The entire timeline can found by clicking here.


5:08 a.m.: Broom awakens for the day.
5:51 a.m.: Broom is escorted to the shower.
6:27 a.m.: Broom eats breakfast of cereal.
8:07 a.m.: The chemicals used in Ohio executions -- thiopental sodium, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- are delivered to the death house.
9:31 a.m.: Execution preparations put on hold while the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals weighs a last-minute appeal request.
12:28 p.m.: Broom eats a lunch of creamed chicken, biscuits, green beans, mashed potatoes, salad and grape drink.
12:48 p.m.: The 6th Circuit says it will not review the appeal. Execution scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.
1:24 p.m.: First round of lethal drugs is destroyed.
1:31 p.m.: Replacement drugs are delivered to the death house.
2:01 p.m.: Medical team enters holding cell and begins trying to insert IVs.
2:30 p.m.: Unable to find a usable vein, team leaves the cell to take a break.
2:42 p.m.: Team members back in cell trying again.
2:44 p.m.: Prisons director Terry Collins tells the medical team to take another break.
2:49 p.m.: Broom wipes his face with a tissue, appears to be crying.
2:57 p.m.: Broom asks that his attorney, Adele Shank, be allowed to watch. Around 3 p.m.: Tim Sweeney, a Cleveland attorney also representing Broom, sends a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer asking the court to stop the execution on the grounds that Broom is suffering cruel and unusual punishment.

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New Revelations of Inmate's Struggles During Ohio Execution Attempt

More information is being reported about the botched execution-attempt of Romell Broom yesterday (Sept. 15) in Ohio.  According to the Associated Press, the correctional officers encountered so much difficulty in finding a suitable vein for the lethal injection that, after an hour, Broom attempted to assist them by moving on his side, sliding the rubber tubing up and down his arm, and flexing his fingers.   A vein was found, but it collapsed as the technicians inserted a saline solution.  Broom’s assistance did not help, and he turned on his back and covered his face with both hands.  He appeared to be in distress and wiped his eyes.  One of the execution team handed him a roll of toilet paper, which he used.  The executioners attempted to use the veins in his legs and he grimaced.  One of the team patted him on his back.  Finally, the executions gave up their attempts, indicating they needed a break.

During the execution, one of Broom’s lawyers , Tim Sweeney, wrote Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer asking him to end the procedure. "Any further attempts today to carry out the execution of Mr. Broom would be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of . . . the U.S. Constitution," he wrote. "They would also violate Ohio's statutory requirement that a lethal injection execution is to be quick and painless."  During the process, Broom requested that another of his lawyers, Adele Shank, come to the witness room.  She witnessed Broom wince in pain several times. “It was obviously a flawed process," she said.

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