Executions

NEW VOICES: Texas Paper Changes Its Death Penalty Position

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced a change in its stance on the death penalty in a recent editorial marking the 500th execution in Texas. While the newspaper had previously endorsed a moratorium on executions, it now supports the abolition of capital punishment. The editors said that moral grounds alone are enough to warrant ending the death penalty, but they also cited a variety of problems in Texas's use of the death penalty, including geographical and racial disparities in sentencing, and the state's "embarassing record of wrongful conviction." The paper pointed to the decline in death sentences and executions as evidence that the death penalty is no longer necessary, concluding, "Abolishing capital punishment would neither demean the memory of victims nor deny any of them justice. Instead, it would make our society as a whole more just, more morally consistent, and certainly more humane." Read the full editorial below.

LETHAL INJECTION: Federal Judge Requires Louisiana Officials to Reveal Details of Lethal Injection Protocol

On June 4, a federal magistrate ruled that the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections must reveal the details of the state's lethal injection protocol. The ruling rejected the argument that disclosing the protocol would raise “serious security concerns.” The ruling by Judge Stephen Riedlinger was on a motion related to the lawsuit filed by death row inmates Jessie Hoffman and Christopher Sepulvado, who contended that due process requires they be fully informed about the state’s execution process. Michael Rubenstein, defense attorney for Hoffman and Sepulvado, noted that, “Not only are lethal injection protocols widely available in other states, the courts have rejected the very argument that the Defendants seek to advance.” Texas and Mississippi, for example, have publicly disclosed their lethal injection protocols. In Texas, the protocol includes specific location of the inmate, the timing of the inmate’s transport to the location of the execution, and other information. The Department of Safety and Corrections now has 14 days to provide Hoffman and Sepulvado’s defense attorneys with the lethal injection protocol.

LETHAL INJECTION: Latest Court Ruling Continues Suspension of Executions in California

On May 30, California’s First District Court of Appeals upheld a Superior Court ruling that found the state’s lethal injection protocol invalid because the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation failed to comply with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. A spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that no decision has been made on whether the ruling will be appealed to the California Supreme Court or if the department will propose a new lethal injection method. California has not had an execution since 2006, partly because questions related to the method of execution and the overall fairness of the system. It has the largest death row in the country, with more than 700 inmates facing execution. The costs of the death penalty are also likely to play a prominent role in its future in the state. Natasha Minsker, who led efforts to repeal California’s death penalty in 2012, said, “Any effort to resume executions will cost hundreds of thousands of public dollars and take years, with an extremely limited chance of success.”

LETHAL INJECTION: British Manufacturer Stops Drug Supply to Arkansas for Executions

The British manufacturer Hikma Pharmaceuticals recently announced new rules to restrict the supply of its products for unintended uses, such as carrying out executions in the United States. Earlier this year, Reprieve, a legal advocacy organization based in London, found that a U.S. subsidiary of Hikma sold 100 grams of phenobarbital to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Arkansas decided to use the new, untested drug in their lethal injection process when they were unable to secure supplies of the drugs they normally use. A spokesman for Hikma Pharmaceuticals said the order had been made as part of the regular request for drugs for prison hospital services and did not raise any red flags because the drug had never been used in executions before. Arkansas has been contacted by the drug company and told that the subsidiary was closing the account. The state's current supply of phenobarbital is sufficient to carry out eight executions and will expire in October 2015. The state will need to seek alternative sources or different drugs when their current supply becomes unavailable. Other drug companies have put similar restrictions on the use of their drugs in executions.

LETHAL INJECTION: Arkansas Plans to Use Untested Drug in Executions

The Arkansas Department of Corrections recently announced it will use a new drug, phenobarbital, for lethal injections. Phenobarbital is used to treat seizures but has never been used for executions in the U.S. Some experts are concerned that using drugs that are untested for this purpose could result in inhumane treatment. David Lubarsky, who chairs the anesthesiology department at the University of Miami's medical school, said, “People should not be using inmates as an experiment. And that is basically what this is. It's basically experimenting." Up until a few years ago, all states carrying out lethal injections used sodium thiopental as the first of three drugs in their protocol. States were forced to seek alternative drugs when the manufacturer stopped making sodium thiopental in response to objections about its use in executions. Oklahoma was the first state to employ pentobarbital, a sedative commonly used by veterinarians to euthanize animals, but that drug is now in short supply for executions. Last year, Missouri announced plans to use propofol for lethal injections, though the manufacturer of that drug has also restricted its sale. Arkansas also plans to use the drug lorazepam prior to the execution as a sedative. However, Jon Groner, a surgery professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, said lorazepam makes some people excitable, instead of relaxed.

STUDIES: Amnesty International Reports Continued Movement Away from Capital Punishment

According to a new report from Amnesty International, the international trend away from the death penalty generally continued in 2012. The number of countries in which death sentences were imposed fell from 63 to 58. The number of countries that have completely abolished the death penalty stood at 97. Ten years ago, this figure stood at 80. In total, 140 countries worldwide have ended the death penalty in law or in practice. However, 3 countries--India, Pakistan, and the Gambia--returned to carrying out executions in 2012 after many years of having none. The U.S. carried out the same number of executions in 2012 as in 2011, but in fewer states. There were 43 executions across nine states. The five countries that carried out the most executions in 2012 were China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said, "In many parts of the world, executions are becoming a thing of the past. Only one in 10 countries in the world carries out executions. Their leaders should ask themselves why they are still applying a cruel and inhumane punishment that the rest of the world is leaving behind."

Lethal Injection Developments Around the Country

Controversies surrounding lethal injections continue in many parts of the country. In Georgia, the legislature passed a bill to classify the names of those involved in executions as “state secrets.” The bill requires the identity of any entity that “manufactures, supplies, compounds or prescribes” lethal injection drugs to be kept secret. In Arkansas, a state judge ruled that death row inmates cannot use the state's Freedom of Information Act to obtain information about the source, history, or quality of the drugs the state will use during execution. An attorney for the inmates claimed they should have a right to the information because of problems with drugs obtained in the past. On March 25, a federal appeals court heard arguments in a case involving death row inmates from across the country arguing that the Food and Drug Administration acted inappropriately in 2010 when it allowed some states to import lethal injection drugs from foreign sources. Eric Shumsky, an attorney representing the inmates, said, “This case is … about ensuring that illegal drugs are not used in carrying out otherwise legal executions.” Also recently, the Israel-based drug company Teva announced that it would resume manufacturing the sedative propofol, but would not allow its use in executions. Missouri has proposed using propofol for its executions.

Federal Court Halts Louisiana Execution As State Rushes Out New Execution Process

On February 7, federal District Court Judge James Brady stayed the execution of Christopher Sepulvado in Louisiana because the state failed to provide details about its new execution protocol. "Sepulvado has been trying to determine what the protocol is for years," Judge Brady wrote, "and the State will not provide this information. The intransigence of the State Defendants in failing to produce the protocol requires the Court to issue this order." Sepulvado was scheduled to be executed on Feb. 13, the first non-consensual execution in the state in over 10 years. The judge said, “There is no way that [Sepulvado] could adequately, meaningfully bring an Eighth Amendment challenge if he does not know how the protocol operates.” Louisiana had previously used a 3-drug protocol, but just recently said it planned to use 1 drug, pentobarbital. However, it offered no details about how the drug was purchased, what training was provided to prison staff, or who would carry out the execution. The state later indicated it obtained the drug from Lundbeck, Inc.

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