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Former Gov. Bill Richardson Issues Human Rights Day Statement on International Decline of Death Penalty

December 10 is Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark this anniversary, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (pictured) joined Federico Mayor, President of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, in drawing attention to the steady decline internationally in the use of the death penalty. As governor, Richardson had signed New Mexico's death-penalty repeal bill in 2009. In an op-ed in the Global Post, Richardson and Mayor noted that, in the late 1970s, only 16 countries had completely abolished the death penalty. Today, 150 countries are abolitionist in law or in practice. In 2012, 111 countries supported a UN resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. The authors stated that countries have ended capital punishment "because experience and evidence demonstrate that the death penalty is cruel, irrevocable and a violation of the right to life. It damages and poisons society by endorsing violence, and by causing injustice and suffering. It has no particular deterrent effect on violent crime, and in fact abolitionist nations often have lower murder rates than those that still execute." Read the full op-ed below.


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EDITORIALS: New Hampshire's Concord Monitor Calls for Death Penalty Repeal

The Concord Monitor of New Hampshire called for repeal of the state's death penalty in a recent editorial. The paper contrasted the case of Michael Addison, the state's only death row inmate, to that of John Brooks, who was convicted of hiring three hitmen to kill a handyman, whom Brooks believed had stolen from him. Brooks received a sentence of life without parole. The Monitor noted, "Brooks was rich and white; Addison was poor and black.... Addison’s victim had the full force of New Hampshire law enforcement watching every twist and turn of the case; Brooks’s victim was little known and quickly forgotten. Different lawyers, different juries, different cases. But it’s difficult not to step back and wonder about the fairness of it all." Addison's death sentence was recently upheld by the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The editorial concluded by calling for repeal legislation in 2014, saying, "New Hampshire hasn’t used its death penalty in more than 70 years. We will be a better, fairer, more humane state without it." Read the full editorial below.


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LETHAL INJECTION: New Execution Practices Raising Medical Concerns

Medical experts are concerned that untried lethal injection procedures in some states could cause prolonged, painful deaths. Ohio will try a procedure never used before in an execution on November 14 when it plans to inject a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. According to Dr. Jonathan Groner, a professor of clinical surgery at Ohio State University College of Medicine, a hydromorphone overdose can cause painful side effects, including an extreme burning sensation, seizures, hallucination, panic attacks, vomiting, and muscle pain. He said, "You're basically relying on the toxic side effects to kill people while guessing at what levels that occurs." Groner added, if the hydromorphone IV is set poorly, "it would be absorbed under the skin, subcutaneously, very slowly, and that death could be extremely prolonged…It may be painful, and it may take forever." Doctors also raised concerns about Missouri's planned use of pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy. Compounding pharmacies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and drugs from one such pharmacy caused a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis in 2012. David Waisel, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School, said that contaminated pentobarbital could cause a sensation similar to rubbing an open wound with sandpaper. Florida was the first state to use midazolam, although it employed different secondary drugs than Ohio. In an October 15 execution, the inmate appeared to remain conscious longer than usual and made movements after losing consciousness.


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Federal Court to Review Florida's Unique Execution Procedure

A federal court in Florida will review challenges to the state's new lethal injection procedure, which the state plans to use in an upcoming execution on November 12. Florida is the only state in the country to use this new protocol, which begins with the sedative midazolam, followed by a paralytic drug and potassium chloride. Attorneys for Florida death row inmates allege the process could result in severe pain in violation of the 8th Amendment. Megan McCracken, an attorney at the death penalty clinic at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, said, “If [potassium chloride is] given to a conscious person who has been inadequately anesthetized, it causes incredible pain because it activates nerve endings. It will feel like burning through the circulatory system until it reaches the heart, which it stops.” Florida switched to midazolam due to a shortage of pentobarbital, an anesthetic used in almost all executions over the past 2 years. Texas, which also has an execution scheduled for November 12, has obtained pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy. It employs only 1 drug in its executions. Ohio recently announced it will use a new protocol involving midazolam and hydromorphone in its execution scheduled for November 14. That procedure is also under review in federal court.


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NEW VOICES: Kansas Republican Says 'Nothing Conservative About the Death Penalty'

Chase Blasi is on the Board of the Kansas Young Republicans and president of the Colwich City Council. In a recent op-ed in the Witchita Eagle, Blasi challenged the idea that "if you are conservative you must favor the death penalty." Instead he noted, "repeal of the death penalty is an important step for promoting a culture of life. The death penalty is simply not necessary to protect life, given that there are alternatives such as life in prison without parole available to keep society secure." He called the death penalty "an ineffective government program that wastes millions in taxpayer dollars," and concluded, "If we, as conservatives, are serious about cutting costs and promoting a culture of life, then our position on the death penalty is a no-brainer. Repeal it." Read the full op-ed below.


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New Hampshire Legislator to Introduce Repeal Bill

On October 24, New Hampshire state representative Renny Cushing (pictured) will introduce a bill to repeal the state's death penalty. In addition to a bi-partisan group of co-sponsors, Cushing will be joined by Judge Walter Murphy--a former chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court and chair of the New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission; Ray Dodge--a former police chief; Bishop Peter Libasci--of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester; and Nancy Filiault--a murder victim family member. Cushing, whose father was murdered in 1988, is also the Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. In 2000, legislators voted to repeal the death penalty, but then-governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill. In 2009, the House also passed a repeal bill. New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939. New Hampshire's current governor, Maggie Hassan, has said she would sign a repeal bill.


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Florida Identifies Over 100 Inmates Nearing Execution

Following the provisions of Florida's recently passed "Timely Justice Act," the clerk of the state's Supreme Court has identified 132 inmates on death row who are "warrant ready," based on their appeals. However, fewer than 20 of those inmates have begun the executive clemency process that must be completed before an execution can take place. Once the governor signals that the clemency process is over for an inmate, a death warrant must be signed in 30 days, but there is no mandatory schedule for the initial review. Over 150 attorneys representing inmates on Florida's death row are challenging the constitutionality of the law, saying it violates the separation of powers, as well as the inmates' rights to due process and equal protection. Stephen Harper, a law professor at Florida International University, said, "This [law] could create an unnecessary constitutional mess between the governor, the Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court as it's being litigated right now." Florida has already executed 5 inmates in 2013, second only to Texas. No one on death row has been granted clemency in Florida in 30 years.


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NEW VOICES: Former Attorneys General Agree Virginia's Death Penalty Needs Change

Former Virginia attorneys general Mark L. Earley Sr. (pictured) and Anthony F. Troy recently called for changes to the state’s death penalty based on a September report from the American Bar Association. Writing in the Washington Post, the past law enforcement leaders called for changes to the restrictive laws governing the sharing of evidence prior to trials, amendments to jury instructions so that jurors in death cases could better understand their responsibilities, and the easing of restrictions on DNA testing. The op-ed noted, “As former attorneys general of Virginia, we come from different political parties but are firmly united on an issue important to all Virginians: If the commonwealth is going to have the death penalty, it needs to get it right. It must ensure that its procedures — from arrest to execution — are fair, and it must minimize the risk of executing an innocent person.” Read full op-ed below.


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LETHAL INJECTION: Many States Changing Lethal Injection Process

On October 4, Ohio announced it will be obtaining its execution drug, pentobarbital, from a compounding pharmacy if it is not available from the manufacturer. Texas made a similar announcement a few days earler. In the past, some compounding pharmacies have been implicated in providing contaminated drugs with fatal side effects. These local companies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Florida announced it will be using a new drug, midazolam, in its October 15 execution. The drug will be part of a 3-drug process and has never been used before in executions. The 3-drug process can be extremely painful if the first drug is not completely effective. Missouri intends to be the first state in the country to use the drug propofol in its October 23 execution, despite the fact that the drug company that delivered the drug has asked for its return. If Missouri goes ahead with the execution, European countries may impose restrictions on the exportation of this drug, thereby affecting other uses for vital surgeries in the U.S.  Finally, Tennessee will now use only a single drug, pentobarbital, in its executions, though it did not say where it hoped to obtain the drug.


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Ohio Panel Recommends Banning Death Penalty for Severely Mentally Ill

On September 26, the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty voted 15-2 to recommend a ban on death sentences for people with severe mental illness. The  panel of legal experts was created by the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio State Bar Association and includes judges, attorneys, and legislators. Their proposal will be submitted with other recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly in 2014. Terry Russell, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio, said his organization has been advocating for such a ban since 1999, when the state resumed executions after 36 years with the lethal injection of an inmate with a lifelong history of severe mental illness--Wilford Berry. “We knew this man was severely mentally disabled,” Russell said. “It is inhumane to execute someone like that.” Panel member Judge Kathleen Keough said the exclusion was “a matter of common decency,” and defendants with mental illness should be considered similar to juveniles and those with intellectual disabilities, who are already excluded from the death penalty.


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