Lethal Injection

Ohio Supreme Court to Hear Romell Broom Appeal

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Romell Broom (pictured), whose execution was halted in 2009 after correctional officers spent two hours trying to insert an IV for a lethal injection. Broom was pricked 18 times during the attempted execution. The court will decide whether further attempts to execute Broom would violate double-jeopardy rules or the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. "Romell Broom has a constitutional right not to be subjected to more than one execution attempt under the circumstances present in this case including the fact that significant psychological and physical pain have already been inflicted on him in a first attempt," his lawyers said. A federal judge recently suspended all executions in Ohio until at least August 15, 2014, in order to allow a review of the state's new execution protocol. The protocol was changed after the botched execution of Dennis McGuire in January. 

Kentucky Lethal Injection Protocol Under Scrutiny

Executions have been on hold in Kentucky since 2010, when Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd began a review of the state's lethal injection protocol. The state revised its protocol in 2012 to call for a one-drug method, with a two-drug method as a backup if specific drugs were not available. Now, that new protocol is also being scrutinized because it calls for the same drugs that caused the botched execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio. Corrections officials say they don't know if any lethal injection drugs would be available, because the Department of Corrections is currently, "prohibited from taking any steps regarding execution -- and this would include the purchase of the drugs, so we don't know if they are available because we haven't tried to purchase." David Barron, an attorney representing five inmates on death row, called the Ohio execution, "an utter disaster," and said that Kentucky's plan to use a smaller dose is, "not enough to prevent the condemned person from feeling pain." Earlier this year, Republican state Representative David Floyd proposed a bill to repeal the death penalty in Kentucky, saying "The government needs to be infallible when it comes to killing people and it's not," adding, "The alternative of life in prison is much more cost effective."

Recent Lethal Injection Developments in Texas, Missouri, and Indiana

As states continue to seek alternative drugs and drug sources for lethal injections, three significant developments occurred last week. Indiana announced recently that they would use Brevital, an anesthetic, as the first drug in its three-drug protocol. On May 27, Par Pharmaceutical, the producer of Brevital, released a statement announcing efforts to prevent the use of their product in executions. The statement said, "The state of Indiana’s proposed use is contrary to our mission. Par is working with its distribution partners to establish distribution controls on Brevital® to preclude wholesalers from accepting orders from departments of correction." On May 29, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster gave a speech in which he suggested that the state of Missouri begin producing execution drugs. Missouri has had difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs and faced challenges to its lethal injection secrecy law. Koster said that state production of the drugs would increase transparency, adding, "As a matter of policy, Missouri should not be reliant on merchants whose identities must be shielded from public view or who can exercise unacceptable leverage over this profound state act.” Missouri would be the first state to set up a state-operated lab for producing execution drugs. In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an order defending secrecy for lethal injection drug sources. The statement represents a reversal for the Attorney General, who had previously rejected arguments from the Department of Criminal Justice that secrecy was necessary.

Autopsy Photos from Botched Florida Execution Released

The New Republic has just released autopsy photos taken after the Florida execution of Angel Diaz in 2006. The execution was so badly botched that it prompted then-Governor Jeb Bush to temporarily suspend executions so the state's lethal injection procedure could be reviewed. The needles that should have been inserted into Diaz's veins were instead pushed through into the surrounding tissue, causing extensive chemical burns. Dr. Jonathan Groner, a professor of clinical surgery at Ohio State University College of Medicine, viewed the photos and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this from IV infiltration...That is the kind of injury we see when a kid has fallen in a campfire or set his arm on fire. My guess is someone who got this when alive would need skin grafts to heal.” When the first dose of the three drugs did not kill Diaz, the cycle was administered a second time. Since sodium thiopental, the first drug used in Diaz's execution, does not produce anesthesia when injected into tissue, Diaz was likely conscious as the other drugs slowly caused paralysis and prevented him from breathing. Witnesses to the execution said Diaz continued to move long after he should have been unconscious. The autopsy revealed large chemical burns on Diaz's arms and the medical examiner noted "extensive skin slippage," which occurs when the top layer of skin separates, revealing the white and pink subcutaneous layers beneath. The autopsy photos were recently found in the case files of another Florida inmate, who used them to challenge the state's execution procedure.

Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Lethal Injection Secrecy

In a 5-2 ruling issued on May 19, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the state's law that hides the source and the identity of the preparer of drugs and equipment used in executions. The court said, “We conclude that Georgia’s execution process is likely made more timely and orderly by the execution-participant confidentiality statute...." The ruling lifted the stay of execution that was in place for Warren Hill, whose lawyers challenged the law. In a dissent, Justice Robert Benham referenced the recent botched execution in Oklahoma, writing, “I fear this state is on a path that, at the very least, denies Hill and other death row inmates their rights to due process and, at the very worst, leads to the macabre results that occurred in Oklahoma." Hill's lawyer, Brian Kammer, said the decision, “effectively affords the State of Georgia carte blanche to alter their lethal injection protocol in any way it sees fit, and to conceal from the public and even the courts the identity and provenance of the chemicals it intends to use to carry out executions.” A similar secrecy law in Missouri is being challenged by five news organizations, who say the law violates the First Amendment.

Execution of Inmate with Unique Medical Condition Stayed by Supreme Court

UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution, pending the outcome of a review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. The Court further noted: "We leave for further consideration in the lower courts whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary."

Earlier: On May 20, just hours before a scheduled execution in Missouri, the U.S. Supreme Court, acting through Justice Samuel Alito, granted a temporary stay to Russell Bucklew. Bucklew has a congenital medical condition that impedes his breathing and presents a grave risk of a very painful death by lethal injection. He was to be executed at midnight on May 21, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a stay on the evening of May 20, saying his "unrebutted medical evidence demonstrates the requisite sufficient likelihood of unnecessary pain and suffering beyond the constitutionally permissible amount inherent in all executions." That stay was lifted by the full 8th Circuit, but reinstated by the Supreme Court without comment.

News Organizations File Suit to Obtain Execution Drug Information

On May 15, the Associated Press and four other media organizations filed suit against the state of Missouri, asking a state court to order the Department of Corrections (DOC) to release information about the source of its lethal injection drugs. Under Missouri law, the identity of the "execution team" is secret, and the DOC has interpreted the drug supplier to be a part of that team. The other four news organizations are the Guardian-U.S., the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, and the Springfield News-Leader. The news organizations filed public records requests with the DOC, asking for information about the drug itself, its source, quality testing, and the qualifications of those who prepared it. They were given a copy of the execution protocol, but told that the other records were closed, "pursuant to the state secret doctrine." Dave Schulz, an attorney for the news organizations and co-director of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, said, "We assert that there is a constitutional right for the public to know the drugs that are used when a state puts someone to death."

BOOKS: "Gruesome Spectacles" Reveals the History of Botched Executions

A new book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, describes the history of flawed executions in the U.S. from 1890 to 2010. During that period, 8,776 people were executed and 276 of those executions went wrong in some way. Of all the methods used, lethal injection had the highest rate of botched executions--about 7%. Austin Sarat, the author of the book and a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College, described the evolution of new methods of execution: "With each development in the technology of execution, the same promises have been made, that each new technology was safe, reliable, effective and humane. Those claims have not generally been fulfilled." In an interview, Sarat was asked how the recent botched execution of Clayton Lockett might affect the public discussion on the death penalty. He replied, "This execution has happened at a time of national reconsideration of capital punishment. The death penalty is really declining. I’m tempted to say it’s dying in the United States. Public support is down, the number of death sentences over the last decade or so has been cut by two thirds, the number of executions is down by about 50 percent. More and more, Americans are focusing on the practical realities and worrying that while the death penalty might in some abstract way satisfy some people, when you look at how it’s actually administered, maybe it’s not worth the cost."

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