Testimony, Resolutions, Statements, & Speeches

Anesthesiologist Calls Ohio Execution "Inhumane"

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."

INTERNATIONAL: UN Secretary-General Says Death Penalty Is Cruel and Inhumane

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently called on all nations to take concrete steps toward ending the death penalty. In his opening remarks at an event co-sponsored by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Ban said, "Together, we can finally end this cruel and inhumane practice everywhere around the world." He noted that "more than four out of five countries — an estimated 160 Member States — have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it." He encouraged support for the UN General Assembly's resolution, first adopted in 2007, supporting a moratorium on the death penalty with a view toward abolishing it. Each time the resolution is renewed, its margin of support has grown. Ban also called on member states to ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at ending capital punishment.

Excerpts from Dissent Regarding Secrecy of Lethal Injection Drugs

In a dissent from a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit allowing Missouri's execution of Michael Taylor on February 26, three judges sharply criticized the secrecy of Missouri's lethal injection protocol as a violation of Taylor's right to due process. The dissenters would have stayed the execution to allow Taylor to obtain information about the source of the execution drugs:

  • "Because Taylor seeks to determine whether the drug to be used in his execution will result in pain or in a lingering death, it bears repeating the importance of the identities of the pharmacists, laboratories, and drug suppliers in determining whether Missouri's execution of death row inmates is constitutional."
  • "[F]rom the absolute dearth of information Missouri has disclosed to this court, the 'pharmacy' on which Missouri relies could be nothing more than a high school chemistry class."
  • "If through lack of experience or lack of time to do adequate testing, the pharmacy has manufactured something which is quite painful, Taylor's constitutional rights would be violated."
  • "Missouri has a storied history of ignoring death row inmates' constitutional rights to federal review of their executions. I once again fear Missouri elevates the ends over the means in its rush to execute Taylor."

NEW VOICES: Partner of Murdered New Hampshire Police Officer Now Opposes Death Penalty

New Hampshire, which is considering a bill to repeal the death penalty, only has one inmate on death row--Michael Addison, who was convicted of killing a police officer. Now that officer's former partner, John Breckenridge (pictured), has had a change of heart about the death penalty and is calling for an end to capital punishment. Initially, Breckenridge supported a death sentence for Addison, and even spoke in favor of the death penalty before the state's death penalty commission. However, he said his religious faith and conversations with Sister Helen Prejean led him to change his mind: "Given the Catholic view on the sanctity of life and our modern prison system and the means we have to protect society, it became clear to me that as a Catholic I could not justify the very pre-meditated act of executing someone who – for all the evil of his crime and all the permanent hurt he caused others – still lives ... in the possibility of spiritual redemption. That’s where my journey brought me. Do I want to visit Michael Addison or invite him into my home? I do not. Do I occasionally pray for him and his family? I do." Read the op-ed below.

King's Daughter Says Death Penalty Perpetuates Cycle of Violence

Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged New Hampshire to repeal the death penalty, saying that even though she lost her father and grandmother to murder, "I can’t accept the judgment that killers need to be killed, a practice that merely perpetuates the cycle of violence." She called the death penalty "unworthy of a civilized society," and warned that "retribution cannot light the way to the genuine healing that we need in the wake of heinous acts of violence." She also pointed to the number of people freed from death row after being exonerated as "evidence that mistakes can and do get made in a justice system run by fallible human beings." She invoked her father's message of nonviolence, quoting from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “'Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.'" Read her op-ed below.

Boston Bar Association Announces Opposition to Use of Federal Death Penalty

On January 7, the Boston Bar Association, representing more than 10,000 lawyers, released a statement opposing the use of the federal death penalty. The Association already had a longstanding position against the death penalty in state cases. Paul T. Dacier (pictured), the President of the Boston Bar, said, "Without equivocation, the death penalty has no place in the fair administration of justice and makes no sense on a practical level." The organization's new stance was based on a review of the death penalty by a working group chaired by retired Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle and Martin Murphy, a partner at Foley Hoag LLP. Murphy said, "The research we conducted confirms that death penalty prosecutions, including federal death penalty cases, are more expensive and time consuming, more subject to prolonged delays, and unlikely to produce a different result than where the prosecution seeks life without parole." The study also raised concerns about the "inevitability of error" in criminal cases.

Former Gov. Bill Richardson Issues Human Rights Day Statement on International Decline of Death Penalty

December 10 is Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark this anniversary, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (pictured) joined Federico Mayor, President of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, in drawing attention to the steady decline internationally in the use of the death penalty. As governor, Richardson had signed New Mexico's death-penalty repeal bill in 2009. In an op-ed in the Global Post, Richardson and Mayor noted that, in the late 1970s, only 16 countries had completely abolished the death penalty. Today, 150 countries are abolitionist in law or in practice. In 2012, 111 countries supported a UN resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. The authors stated that countries have ended capital punishment "because experience and evidence demonstrate that the death penalty is cruel, irrevocable and a violation of the right to life. It damages and poisons society by endorsing violence, and by causing injustice and suffering. It has no particular deterrent effect on violent crime, and in fact abolitionist nations often have lower murder rates than those that still execute." Read the full op-ed below.

Colorado Governor Indefinitely Stays Execution Over Concerns About Flawed System

On May 22, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado granted an indefinite stay of execution to Nathan Dunlap, who was facing execution in August. In his Executive Order, the governor expressed concerns about the state’s death penalty system, calling it flawed and inequitable. He also noted the national trend away from capital punishment, with five states recently voting to repeal the death penalty and other states rarely using it. Hickenlooper stated, “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.” The governor underscored that his decision to grant a reprieve in this case was because of larger objections to the death penalty, and he was not granting clemency to Dunlap. He concluded, “It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives.”

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