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In Missouri, Testimony About Secret Cash Payments for Execution Drugs

In Missouri, the Director of the Department of Corrections testified that the state obtains its lethal injection drugs by sending a correctional official to another state with $11,000 in cash to pay a compounding pharmacy called The Apothecary Shoppe. The officer then hand delivers the drug to the department. At a legislative hearing on February 10, George Lombardi of the DOC said pentobarbital was obtained in Oklahoma by paying in cash in order to maintain the anonymity of the pharmacy. Also testifying was Jacob Luby, an attorney with the Death Penalty Litigation Center. Luby raised concerns that the drug would not be stored at the proper temperature in transport: “First, let’s address the fact that this drug is supposed to be kept frozen and not at room temperature,” Luby said. “We’ve got someone driving a drug across state lines after purchasing it in cash and delivering it to the department and until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know who was selling us the drug.” Bills have been proposed in Missouri to require execution protocols to be more open to public scrutiny. The Department of Corrections is currently exempt from that process. Concerns were also raised about executions occurring before appeals had been settled. Committee Chair Jay Barnes said, “If we have a situation where the state is executing people while they still have legitimate legal claims in court, that’s a serious issue. I want to make sure we aren’t executing someone because we are statutorily keeping them from the finding of fact that’s necessary for the case to continue.”


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Washington Governor Announces Moratorium on Executions

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced on February 11 that he would issue a reprieve for any death penalty case that reaches his desk. He said he does not intend to commute the sentences of the nine men on the state's death row, but his action will ensure that no executions occur while he is governor. In his press conference announcing the decision, Inslee said, "Equal justice under the law is the state's primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I'm not convinced equal justice is being served. The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred." He also cited the death penalty's lack of deterrent effect and said that it is unnecessary when the state has the sentencing option of life without parole. His decision to institute a moratorium came after discussions with victims' family members, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials. The governor said he hoped his action will prompt a deeper discussion of capital punishment in the state.


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States' Secrecy in Lethal Injections Challenged as Interference with Freedoms of Speech and Press

A pending federal lawsuit in Missouri asserts that a state law shrouding the makers of lethal injection drugs in secrecy is a form of prior censorship and an interference with the pulic's right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press under the First Amendment. U.S. District Court Judge Beth Phillips, who has already expressed concern about withholding this information from a death row defendant facing execution, is expected to rule soon on this broader problem. The Georgia Supreme Court is also weighing the constitutionality of a similar ban on releasing information in that state. States do not want to reveal the sources of their drugs because it might embarrass the pharmacists who are preparing the chemicals. Under Missouri's law, anyone who publishes information about the pharmacy making the drug is liable to be sued. In 2006, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed that the doctor who prepared the drugs for Missouri's executions had been publicly disciplined by the state medical board, prompting the legislature to pass the secrecy law. The paper also identified a nurse on the execution team who was on probation for stalking. The editor of the Post-Dispatch later wrote, "We believe the law is unconstitutional, and we also believe it stifles public discussion and hinders governmental accountability."


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Correctional Officers' Union Calls for Improving Death Row Conditions

Prison officials in Texas are reviewing policies currently requiring all death row inmates to be isolated one to a cell for 23 hours a day. Executions in Texas are carried out in Huntsville, and the local chapter of the correctional officers' union supports changing death-row practices. Chapter president Lance Lowry said, “The correctional officers and taxpayers would benefit from an easing of the current policies. Most death row offenders could be housed two to a cell. Some of them could be given work privileges and allowed to watch TV. An inmate who has nothing to lose is a dangerous inmate.” Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of California's San Quentin prison, which houses the country's largest death row, agreed, “When inmates are permanently and automatically housed in highly restrictive environments — as they are in Texas — it is more difficult to control their behavior. To make matters worse, complete idleness breeds mental illness, causing inmates to act out and putting correctional officers at risk.” The correctional officers' union is one of a dozen organizations that support easing the restrictions. The others include mental health organizations, the Texas Defender Service, and several religious groups. The coalition is asking prison officials to allow death row inmates contact visits with family members, communal recreation, religious services, and work assignments.


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Louisiana To Change Lethal Injection Procedure One Week Before Execution

Just one week before the scheduled execution of Christopher Sepulvado, Louisiana announced it has been unable to  find pentobarbital for its lethal injections and instead may apply a new procedure used only once before in the U.S. If the state cannot obtain pentobarbital, it will employ the two-drug procedure used by Ohio on January16 to execute Dennis McGuire, an execution that resulted in gasping sounds and movements by the inmate over an extended period of time. That procedure involved midazolam--a sedative--and hydromorphone--a painkiller. Gary Clements, an attorney for Mr. Sepulvado, said Louisiana is violating its own protocol, which requires that lethal injection drugs be obtained at least 30 days before an execution. "Just days before a scheduled execution, the State has significantly changed its execution protocol without independent oversight or public scrutiny," Clements said. "[This] once again demonstrates that the State is not prepared to move forward with Mr. Sepulvado’s scheduled execution in a manner that comports with state and federal laws, and the U.S. Constitution." Sepulvado's attorneys argue his due process rights are being violated by the lack of information about the manner of his execution, and his right to be spared cruel and unusual punishment would be violated by an execution using faulty drugs.


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Missouri Execution Drugs Challenged As Violating Federal Law

Attorneys for a Missouri inmate facing imminent execution have asserted that the Department of Corrections has violated state and federal laws in acquiring its lethal injection drugs. Herbert Smulls is scheduled for execution on January 29, but a challenge has been filed in federal court alleging that the state's pentobarbital was obtained from a compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma, which is unlicensed in Missouri. The suit also stated the drug has not been stored properly. A correctional official, who helped find a compounding pharmacy that would sell lethal injection drugs to Missouri, said he did not know if the pharmacy was licensed to sell in the state. Cheryl Pilate, Smulls' attorney, said, "We were very surprised, really, by the lack of attention that was given to vetting the pharmacy -- finding out if it was qualified to do what it did, if it was inspected, if it was properly licensed. It seemed that there was almost no knowledge actually of the capabilities of the compounding pharmacy." In a January 22 letter to the Food and Drug Administration, Pilate alleged Missouri violated several federal laws by obtaining pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy without a valid prescription.


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NEW VOICES: Partner of Murdered New Hampshire Police Officer Now Opposes Death Penalty

New Hampshire, which is considering a bill to repeal the death penalty, only has one inmate on death row--Michael Addison, who was convicted of killing a police officer. Now that officer's former partner, John Breckenridge (pictured), has had a change of heart about the death penalty and is calling for an end to capital punishment. Initially, Breckenridge supported a death sentence for Addison, and even spoke in favor of the death penalty before the state's death penalty commission. However, he said his religious faith and conversations with Sister Helen Prejean led him to change his mind: "Given the Catholic view on the sanctity of life and our modern prison system and the means we have to protect society, it became clear to me that as a Catholic I could not justify the very pre-meditated act of executing someone who – for all the evil of his crime and all the permanent hurt he caused others – still lives ... in the possibility of spiritual redemption. That’s where my journey brought me. Do I want to visit Michael Addison or invite him into my home? I do not. Do I occasionally pray for him and his family? I do." Read the op-ed below.


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King's Daughter Says Death Penalty Perpetuates Cycle of Violence

Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged New Hampshire to repeal the death penalty, saying that even though she lost her father and grandmother to murder, "I can’t accept the judgment that killers need to be killed, a practice that merely perpetuates the cycle of violence." She called the death penalty "unworthy of a civilized society," and warned that "retribution cannot light the way to the genuine healing that we need in the wake of heinous acts of violence." She also pointed to the number of people freed from death row after being exonerated as "evidence that mistakes can and do get made in a justice system run by fallible human beings." She invoked her father's message of nonviolence, quoting from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “'Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.'" Read her op-ed below.


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Preliminary Cost Figures Released as Death Penalty Hearings Approach

The Kansas Judicial Council, an advisory body to the legislature, released preliminary findings on the cost of the death penalty in preparation for legislative hearings on a repeal measure. The council found that state Supreme Court Justices spend 20 times more hours on death penalty appeals than on non-capital appeals; the Department of Corrections spends than twice as much ($49,380 versus $24,690) to house a death-row inmate per year as to house a general-population inmate; and capital cases take more than twice as many days in district court as non-capital cases. A 2003 study of the cost of the death penalty in Kansas found that death penalty cases cost about 70% more than other cases. Two bills dealing with capital punishment will have hearings in the legislature on January 16 - one that would replace the death penalty with life without parole, and another that would seek to speed the appeals process in capital cases. Sen. Carolyn McGinn, (R-Sedgwick), who sponsored the repeal bill, said, "I feel it's an important issue any time we talk about government having sole authority to take lives." 


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NEW VOICES: Retired Judges Support Finding of Racial Bias in North Carolina Death Penalty

Six retired judges in North Carolina urged the the state Supreme Court to uphold the rulings of a lower court that found racial bias in the use of the death peanlty. Former chief justices James Exum and Henry Frye, along with former judges Willis Whichard, Melzer Morgan, Wade Barber and Russell Walker filed a brief in support of inmates whose death sentences were reduced to life without parole in 2012 under the state's Racial Justice Act. The Act allowed death row inmates to present statistical evidence of racial bias in challenging their sentences, but it was repealed in 2013. The NAACP also filed a brief on behalf of the inmates. Irving Joyner, a North Carolina Central University law professor who signed the NAACP brief, said, "What the court has to decide is whether the state of North Carolina feels it's acceptable to execute people who have been tried by a racially biased system."


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