Lethal Injection

NEW VOICES: "Death Penalty Has Had Its Day in North Carolina"

Mark Edwards, chair of the Nash County (North Carolina) Republican Party, recently spoke about replacing the death penalty with a sentence of lfie without parole: "As a conservative seeking to find the best way to protect the residents of this great state from crime, I believe the death penalty has had its day in North Carolina. It is time to begin the debate on replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole." He also said, "We are advocating that we replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole, which would will prevent debacles like the Oklahoma execution. It is a tough punishment, and inmates with no hope of release certainly do not live on 'easy street.'" Edwards is a member of North Carolina Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, and he pointed to the toll executions take on correctional officers, especially when executions go wrong: "No matter how professionally the staff carries out its duties, a community is formed and relationships established with the prisoners, including those who sit and wait on death row. Then they have to participate in the inmate’s execution. That cannot be easy for these men and women," Edwards said. "It is not fair for us to impose these untested (and, as the events in Oklahoma remind us, possibly unreliable) drug protocols on the dedicated staff of the Department of Corrections."  Read the full letter to the editor below.

NEW VOICES: Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma Would Bypass Death Penalty

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma recently said he believes the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, “was certainly not done appropriately.” Coburn, who is also a physician, added, “It’s an unfortunate thing but, again, anytime you’re doing anything with the body, things can go wrong." He also spoke more broadly about his views on the death penalty, saying, "I don’t like it. I wish we put everybody that had such a history as this gentleman behind bars working and doing things that would help them." With regard to the investigation the state is conducting on the botched execution, Coburn said, “Oklahoma will correct it. They’ll be transparent about what happened. They’ll fix what happened." The senator did say he thought the death penalty had "deterrent capability."

EDITORIALS: "State-Sponsored Horror in Oklahoma"

A recent New York Times editorial described the "horrific scene" of Clayton Lockett's botched execution and called on Oklahoma to "[follow] other governors and legislatures in banning executions, recognizing that the American administration of death does not function." The editors noted the Oklahoma Supreme Court's temporary halt to the execution and pointed to political pressure as a possible explanation for why the Court then allowed it to go forward: "[S]everal lawmakers threatened to impeach the justices, and Gov. Mary Fallin blindly ignored the warning signs and ordered the execution to proceed." The editorial stated, "Mr. Lockett’s ordeal, along with the botched deaths of other inmates around the country, showed there is no reliable and humane method of execution." The Times critiqued not only the secrecy surrounding the source of the lethal injection drugs used, but also the larger systemic problems of the death penalty, such as arbitrariness and wrongful convictions. They cited a new study that found over 4% of death-sentenced defendants are likely innocent. Noting the growing number of jurists and lawmakers who are calling for a moratorium on the death penalty because of its exceptional cost, the editorial concluded, "The 'exceptional cost' refers not just to dollars and cents. It refers to the moral diminishment of the United States when a man dies by the hasty hand of government, writhing in pain." Read the editorial below.

President Obama Orders Review of Death Penalty

President Obama has ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to review the application of the death penalty in the U.S. following the failed execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on April 29. The President noted concerns about innocence and racial bias: “In the application of the death penalty in this country, we have seen significant problems — racial bias, uneven application of the death penalty, you know, situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to have been innocent because of exculpatory evidence. And all these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied.” The Department of Justice was already reviewing federal execution protocols. Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said, “At the president’s direction, the department will expand this review to include a survey of state-level protocols and related policy issues.” The President called the events in Oklahoma, in which the inmate regained consciousness and apprarently suffered before dying of a heart attack, "deeply disturbing."

Oklahoma Botches Execution of Clayton Lockett

On April 29, Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack approximately 40 minutes after the state began administering a new lethal injection protocol. Lockett received an injection of midazolam, the first drug in a three-drug protocol, at 6:23 pm. At 6:33, Lockett was declared unconscious, but about three minutes later, witnesses said he began to nod, mumble, and writhe on the gurney. Some witnesses described his movements as a seizure. At 7:06, Lockett died of a massive heart attack. Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said, "The director did say that it appears that a vein blew up or exploded, it collapsed, and the drugs were not getting into the system like they were supposed to." Gov. Mary Fallin stayed the execution of Charles Warner, which was scheduled to begin just two hours after Lockett's. She said, “I have asked the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett.” Deborah Denno, a lethal injection expert and law professor at Fordham Law School, said, “This is one of the worst botches that we’ve had. All of this was predictable and foreseeable. How many times does this have to take place? ... We have all the evidence we need to show this is a highly problematic and potentially unconstitutional procedure."

Executions Stayed As Secrecy Issue Is Considered by Oklahoma Supreme Court

UPDATE: On April 23, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the inmates facing execution do not have a right to be informed of the source of the drugs that will be used in their executions. The Court lifted the stays of execution, which means they could occur on April 29. -Earlier: On April 21, the Oklahoma Supreme Court indefinitely stayed the executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner so it could resolve the constitutionality of a state law making the sources of its lethal injection drugs a secret. The Supreme Court had originally directed the state Court of Criminal Appeals to stay the executions, but that court declined because it said the secrecy challenge was not part of a criminal appeal. Acting under its authority as the ultimate arbiter of jurisdictional issues, the Supreme Court reluctantly assumed control over the entire case and granted the stays, lest the inmates be left "with no access to the courts" as their executions loomed. On April 22, Gov. Mary Fallin rescheduled Lockett's execution for April 29, questioning the authority of the Supreme Court to grant the stays, although it is unlikely the underlying issue will be resolved by that time. Madeline Cohen, an assistant federal public defender involved in the case, said, "We hope this case will lead to full transparency in Oklahoma's lethal injection practices and that no more executions will take place until basic questions about those practices are answered."

On Eve of Execution, Oklahoma Courts Can't Agree on Who Has Power to Stay

UPDATE: (4/21). The Oklahoma Supreme Court (5-4) has stayed the executions of Lockett and Warner. Earlier:In a 3-2 decision on April 18, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) said it could not grant a stay of execution to two death row inmates facing imminent execution because they had not filed a proper motion. Earlier, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said the OCCA should be the court to grant a stay, especially since there were unsettled questions about the constitutionality of the state's execution law. The two inmates, Clayton Lockett (l.) and Charles Warner (r.), have argued that the "veil of secrecy" surrounding Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional. A lower court ruled in their favor in March. Vice-Presiding Judge Clancey Smith of the OCCA dissented from the 3-2 ruling, saying, "I would grant a stay to avoid irreparable harm as the appellants face imminent execution. I would do so in consideration of the appellants' rights, to avoid the miscarriage of justice, and in comity with the Supreme Court's request for time to resolve the issues pending before it." Attorneys for Lockett and Warner have filed an additonal appeal to the state Supreme Court, stating, "The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) has repeatedly disavowed any authority to stay Appellants’ executions, even in the face of this Court’s direct ruling to the contrary. It simply cannot be that no court in this State has the power to enter a stay of execution in this case. Such a result would close the courts of justice to Appellants, in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution."

Perils of State Secrecy Surrounding Lethal Injections

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, attorneys Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno argued that the veil of secrecy that many states have placed over their execution process violates defendants' constitutional rights and "deprives the public of informed debate." The authors provided numerous examples where inmates executed with drugs from compounding pharmacies or with novel mixes of new drugs exhibited signs of consciousness and suffering. However, inmates whose executions are rapidly approaching are unable to mount a credible challenge to the drugs that will be used because legislatures or wardens have labeled the sources as state secrets. The attorneys concluded, "The Eighth Amendment requires that the ultimate punishment our society can impose and the means by which it is carried out are subject to the highest level of scrutiny. If prison officials conceal crucial information from judges, lawyers and the public, we have only their word that the drugs will cause death in a manner that complies with the Constitution. Clearly, we can’t leave that to trust."

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