Executions

United Kingdom Acts to Ban Export of Lethal Injection Drug

The United Kingdom has introduced restictions on the exportation of propofol after officials in Missouri announced they would begin using the anesthetic in executions. Exports of sodium thiopental, another anesthetic previously used in executions, were restricted after several states obtained that drug from DreamPharma, a drug company run out of the back of a driving school in London. Vince Cable, the U.K. Business Secretary, said, "This country opposes the death penalty. We are clear that the state should never be complicit in judiciary executions through the use of British drugs in lethal injections." The ban will not prevent export of the drug for medical purposes.

Missouri is the first state to announce its intention to use propofol in executions. All executions in 2012 have used the anesthetic pentobarbital. Lundbeck, Inc., the Danish producer of pentobarbital, announced restrictions on its distribution to avoid its use in lethal injections. Recently, manufacturing rights were transferred to a U.S. company, Akorn, Inc., but restrictions on pentobarbital's use were to stay in place.  This week, Texas announced that it will begin using pentobarbital in a new one-drug protocol for executions.  Four other states have already used a one-drug procedure.  Oklahoma, which had previously stated that it had only enough pentobarbital for one more execution, announced on July 11 that it had acquired 20 additional doses from an unnamed source.

EXECUTIONS: The U.S. in Mid-Year 2012

In the first half of 2012, eight states carried out 23 executions. In the same period last year, there were 25 executions in 9 states. The annual number of executions has declined significantly from its peak in 1999, when 98 people were executed. There were 43 executions in 2011.  Sixteen of this year's executions (70%) have been in the South, with nearly half in just two states - Texas and Mississippi. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of cases resulting in executions this year involved a murder with a white victim, even though generally whites are victims of murder less than 50% of the time in the U.S. Inmates executed so far this year spent an average of just over 18 years on death row prior to execution.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time between sentencing and execution for those executed in 2010 was 15 years, the longest period for any single year.  States have continued to alter their execution protocols due to ongoing shortages of certain execution drugs. All executions in 2012 have been by lethal injection.  This year Arizona and Idaho joined Ohio and Washington in using a one-drug lethal injection procedure.  All executions this year have used pentobarbital, a drug not used in executions prior to December 2010.

Arkansas Supreme Court Holds Lethal Injection Law Unconstitutional

Arkansas state sealOn June 22, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s lethal injection law as unconstitutional because it delegated too much authority to the Department of Corrections. In a 5-2 decision, the court sided with 10 death row inmates who argued that, under Arkansas's constitution, only the Legislature can set execution policy, and that legislators violated the state's separation of powers doctrine when it voted to give that authority to the prison system in the Method of Execution Act of 2009. The ruling does not invalidate Arkansas’s death penalty but does leave the state without a lawful way to carry out executions until a new law is passed.  Associate Justice Jim Gunter, writing for the majority, said that the law governing executions failed to include reasonable guidelines for executive branch agencies to follow when deciding on an execution protocol: "The statute provides no guidance and no general policy with regard to the procedures for the (Arkansas Department of Corrections) to implement lethal injections.” There are currently 40 prisoners on Arkansas’s death row. The last execution carried out in the state was in 2005.

NEW RESOURCES: Latest Death Row USA Report Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row USA shows a decrease of 19 inmates between January 1 and April 1, 2012. Over the last decade, the total population of state and federal death rows has decreased significantly, from 3,682 inmates in 2000 to 3,170 inmates as of April 2012. California continues to have the largest death row population (724), followed by Florida (407), Texas (308), Pennsylvania (204), and Alabama (200). Neither California nor Pennsylvania have carried out an execution in the past six years. The report includes information on the race of death row inmates. Although the overall population of death row has decreased since 2000, the percentage of Latino inmates facing execution has been steadily increasing. In 1991, Latinos made up 6% of the nation's death row. In 2012, Latinos or Latinas comprised 12.4% of death row inmates. In jurisdictions having 10 or more inmates on death row, the states with the highest percent of Latino/Latina death row inmates are Nebraska (45%), Texas (29%) and California (23%). The report also contains statistics on executions and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.

Court Requires Greater Public Access for Viewing Executions

On June 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that witnesses should have full viewing-access to executions carried out in Idaho, siding with the Associated Press and other media outlets. Seventeen news organizations had argued that the state’s protocol was unconstitutionally restrictive because it prevented witnesses, including reporters acting as representatives of the public, from viewing executions until after catheters had been inserted into the veins of death row inmates. The court stated, "Nearly a decade ago, we held in the clearest possible terms that ‘the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber.’ . . . The State of Idaho has had ample opportunity for the past decade to adopt an execution procedure that reflects this settled law." The ruling will immediately affect the execution of Richard Leavitt, who is facing lethal injection on June 12. Jeff Ray, a spokesperson for Idaho’s Department of Corrections said, "We, of course, respect the court's decision. We will take the necessary measures to assure that the execution continues as scheduled.”

UPCOMING EXECUTIONS: Ohio Set to Execute Inmate with Severe Mental Illness

UPDATE2: Awkal was given a two-week stay by Gov. Kasich to allow time for a mental competency determination. Abdul Awkal (pictured) is scheduled to be executed in Ohio on June 6, despite evidence of his severe mental illness. Awkal lived through 8 years of a civil war in Lebanon, his home country, before escaping to Michigan.  He was sentenced to death for murdering his estranged wife and brother-in-law in 1992.  There were indications he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  At one point, the prosecution offered him a plea bargain that would have removed the possibility of a death sentence, but Awkal rejected the offer.  On two occasions, he was deemed by courts to be too mentally incompetent to assist in his own defense.  He was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, depressed type. Awkal also has a history of mental breakdowns, suicidal depression and hallucinations.  He believes he advises the CIA on Islamic religion and culture, and claimed he is being executed because the CIA wants him dead.  Awkal's attorneys have asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to grant him clemency.  UPDATE: Gov. Kasich denied Awkal's clemency request on May 30.

LETHAL INJECTION: Missouri Intends to Use Propofol in One-Drug Lethal Injection

The Missouri Department of Corrections has announced that it is switching from a three-drug lethal injection protocol to a single-drug method, using Propofol. Missouri would be the first state to use Propofol (Diprivan) as an execution drug.The drug is manufactured by AstraZeneca. At least one medical expert has questioned whether the new execution drug is appropriate. Missouri’s written protocol does not require a physician to be a part of the execution team. Dr. Jonathan Groner, an Ohio State University surgeon who has studied lethal injection extensively, said that improper administration of the drug could cause pain at the injection site. Dr. Groner said high doses of Propofol will cause respiratory arrest, but the dosage must be accurate and the process must move swiftly because the drug wears off in just a few minutes. According to Dr. Groner, "If they start breathing before the heart stops, they might not die.” It is not clear when Propofol would first be used in an execution.  Missouri has scheduled an execution for August 3, but some appeals remain.  The state has carried out only two executions in the last seven years.

INNOCENCE: New Evidence That Texas May Have Executed an Innocent Man

In one of the most comprehensive investigations ever undertaken about the execution of a possibly innocent defendant, Professor James Liebman and other researchers at Columbia University Law School have published a groundbreaking report on the case of Carlos DeLuna (pictured), who was executed in Texas in 1989.  This "Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution" is being published today (May 15) in Columbia's Human Rights Law Review.  Prof. Liebman concluded DeLuna was innocent and was wrongly convicted "on the thinnest of evidence: a single, nighttime, cross-ethnic eyewitness identification and no corroborating forensics." DeLuna maintained his innocence from the time of his arrest until his execution, claiming that the actual culprit was Carlos Hernandez, who looked so similar to DeLuna that friends and family had mistaken photos of the two men for each other. Prosecutors called Hernandez a "phantom" of DeLuna's imagination, although Hernandez was known to police and prosecutors because of his history of violent crimes, including armed robberies and an arrest for a murder similar to the one for which DeLuna was executed. Liebman's investigation found that Hernandez "spent years bragging around Corpus Christi that he, not his tocayo - his namesake and 'twin' - Carlos DeLuna, killed Wanda Lopez."

Pages