The Republican Liberty Caucus of Kansas has officially announced its opposition to the death penalty. The Caucus chair, Dave Thomas, said, “Any time you give the government a power that can be abused, it will or may be abused in the future. And taking a citizen's life is kind of the ultimate power the government can have.” The Caucus joined several Republcan legislators, such as Sen. Carolyn McGinn and Rep. Steve Becker, in supporting repeal of capital punishment. The Kansas Republican Party chose to omit a death-penalty stance from of its platform this year, leaving it as "a matter of individual conscience." The Kansas Libertarian Party opposes the death penalty. In 2013, a repeal bill sponsored by two Republicans and one Democrat received hearings, but was not passed. Kansas has 10 people on death row but has not had an execution since capital punishment was reinstated in 1994.
Dr. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist at Emory University, recently witnessed an execution in Georgia and wrote about the presence of two physicians during the lethal injection he observed. He quoted the Medical Practice Act describing the role of doctors as those "engaged in the diagnosis or treatment of disease, defects, or injuries of human beings." However, he noted, "Life is not a disease, defect, or injury. Nothing in the Medical Practice Act authorizes a physician to cure someone of his life." Dr. Zivot attributed the lack of oversight regarding the doctors' participation to Georgia's secrecy law, which shields the identity of all execution participants: "In Georgia, and in other states that have secrecy laws, medical boards are usurped and the state now authorizes what behavior constitutes acceptable medical practice. This cannot be permitted. If the state prevents the board from regulating certain doctors, public health can be undermined in secret. If the state has the power to immunize physicians from oversight of their peers and colleagues, they have a terrible power to pervert the delivery of healthcare for some bureaucrat's idea of the public good. It is a horrific precedent that can be abused, even with the best of intentions."
In a recent interview, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper stated his opposition to the death penalty, citing the views of murder victims' family members and the high cost of implementing capital punishment. Hickenlooper said he had supported the death penalty until he learned more about it. “My whole life I was in favor of the death penalty," he said, "But then you get all this information: it costs 10 times, maybe 15 times more money to execute someone than to put someone in prison for life without parole. There’s no deterrence to having capital punishment. And I don’t know about you, but when I get new facts, I’ll change my opinion. I didn’t know all of this stuff." In 2013, he granted an indefinite reprieve to death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, saying, “If the State of Colorado is going to undertake the responsibility of executing a human being, the system must operate flawlessly. Colorado’s system for capital punishment is not flawless.” Because of the general basis for Hickenlooper's grant of a stay, it would appear to put a hold on all executions while he is governor.
In the recent prolonged execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona, the state apparently veered from its execution protocol when it employed 15 doses of lethal injection drugs, rather than just a single dose followed by a second application, if necessary, as stated in its regulations. There have been numerous other instances in which the state appeared to depart from its protocol. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit criticized the state in 2012, saying Arizona “has insisted on amending its execution protocol on an ad hoc basis,” and that it had a “rolling protocol that forces us to engage with serious constitutional questions and complicated factual issues in the waning hours before executions.” In another instance, the federal public defender office said the Department of Corrections failed to check the criminal background of execution team members and ignored a lack of qualifications. One employee leading the medical team in four executions could not recall inserting an IV since he was trained as an emergency medical technician years earlier. In a 2011 execution, the medical team leader replaced one execution drug with another after concluding that they were "essentially equivalent," based on reading the drug packaging and information on the Internet, according to a suit brought by a death row inmate. Dale Baich, an attorney who represented Joseph Wood, said, “There’s the protocol that’s in place and there’s what happens, and those aren’t necessarily the same thing. What we’ve learned from this execution is that the Department of Corrections was making it up as it went along.”
Former Texas Governor Mark White and former FBI director William Sessions have petitioned Texas to grant clemency to death row inmate Max Soffar because of the strong chance that a reversal of his conviction will come too late due to his rapidly declining medical condition. Soffar's case has been reversed before, and his latest appeal is pending before a federal court. Soffar's supporters are asking that he be allowed to spend his last days at home before he dies of liver cancer. He has been on death row for over 33 years, consistently maintaining his innocence. "Nothing can save me," said Soffar. "I'm going to die. I've talked to my doctor — maybe five months, maybe four months, maybe three weeks." His lawyers said, "The reality is that the federal court process will likely not be completed before Mr. Soffar dies. The exigency of this situation is the driving force behind what Mr. Soffar admits is an unusual request for clemency at this stage of a capital case."
As schools begin their new terms, we would like to remind you of two educational resources on the death penalty free from DPIC. Our award-winning high school curriculum, Educational Curriculum on the Death Penalty, includes 10-day lesson plans, interactive maps and exercises, and a presentation of pros and cons on the death penalty for discussion and debate. It is also available as a free iBook for the Apple iPad. The iBook version incorporates the interactivity and user-friendly interface of a tablet, including touch-screen navigation, access to the full curriculum even when offline, and use of standard iBook features, such as definitions and note-taking. For instructions on downloading the iBook, click here. Our college-level curriculum, Capital Punishment in Context, contains detailed case studies of individuals who were sentenced to death in the U.S. The curriculum provides a complete narrative of each case, along with original resources, such as homicide reports, affidavits, and transcripts of testimony from witnesses. The narratives are followed by a discussion of the issues raised by each case, enabling students to research further into a broad variety of topics. Both curricula have special materials for those who register. They are widely used by educators in the U.S. and around the world in the fields of civics, criminal justice, sociology, and many other areas.
The lethal injection of Dennis McGuire in Ohio in January "was not a humane execution," according to Dr. Kent Dively (pictured), a San Diego anesthesiologist who examined records related to the execution, which took nearly 30 minutes to complete. Dr. Dively made the statement in an affidavit related to a civil rights suit filed by McGuire's children. McGuire was the first person in the country to be executed using a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. Dively stated, "Neither of these drugs combined in the doses used can be depended upon to produce a rapid loss of consciousness and death." He continued, "Mr. McGuire was noted to be straining against his restraints, struggling to breathe, and making hand gestures. More likely than not these represent conscious voluntary actions by Mr. McGuire. They exemplify true pain and suffering in the several minutes before he lost consciousness." He also noted that Ohio's execution protocol states that all executions will be carried out in a "professional, humane, sensitive, and dignified manner," and said the state failed to meet its own standards: "These drugs do not fulfill the criteria set forth by the state of Ohio. They do not provide for an execution in a professional, humane, sensitive, and dignified manner. Allowing the inmate to suffer for a prolonged period struggling to get free and gasping for air before death certainly is not dignified nor humane." He recommended the state "reconsider the drug combinations they are currently employing. Otherwise other inmates in the future could suffer egregious inhumane deaths like Mr. McGuire."
A new report from The Death Penalty Project, "The Inevitability of Error," examines the risk of wrongful convictions in capital prosecutions through case studies from around the world. The report analyzes recent innocence cases in Japan, the U.S., Taiwan, and Sierra Leone, as well as older cases from the United Kingdom that encouraged abolition efforts there. Among the cases included are those of Iwao Hakamada, who was released after 47 years on death row in Japan, and Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person in the U.S. exonerated from death row by DNA evidence. The study recommends improvements to investigative and appellate procedures, but concludes, "This may, in theory, decrease the likelihood of wrongful convictions, but it will never eliminate it altogether....There is no perfect justice system - error is inevitable. Wherever the death penalty is imposed, there is always a risk that innocent people will be convicted and executed."