2017-04-20 13:55:06 UTC
ARKANSAS----stay of 1 impending execution
Arkansas Supreme Court issues stay for death row inmate
The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted 1 of 2 executions set for Thursday,
saying the condemned inmate should have a chance to prove his innocence with
more DNA testing.
Stacey Johnson claims that advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn't
kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of 2, in 1993 at her southwest Arkansas
In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state's highest court issued a
stay for Johnson and ordered a new hearing in lower court for Johnson to make
Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with inmate Ledell Lee, who
is also seeking a stay in a separate case.
The Innocence Project previously asked the state's circuit court to grant
Johnson new DNA testing, CBS affiliate KTVH reports.
In a press release, the group said newer DNA testing has "never been performed"
in his case that could potentially prove his innocence.
The evidence in the case shows Heath was stabbed in the throat and raped.
Johnson has maintained his innocence throughout his entire time in prison.
KTVH reports that anti-death penalty protesters have camped out in front of the
governor's mansion in Little Rock in the weeks leading to the decision.
(source: CBS News)
SWAR death row inmate set to be executed Thursday
A DeQueen, Ark., man is scheduled to be executed Thursday after twice being
sentenced to death for a brutal murder 24 years ago.
However, court filings recently have picked up throughout the state trying to
block the executions of Stacey Eugene Johnson and 7 other death row inmates.
"It is certainly not a done deal that he will be executed on Thursday," said
Arkansas Circuit Judge Tom Cooper, who was the prosecuting attorney in
Johnson's 2nd trial.
"I would like to see justice done. And, in my opinion, that (execution) would
be justice in this case," he continued, "I was there in trying this case, I
know what he did."
Johnson was convicted in 2 separate trials for killing DeQueen mother Carol
Heath in 1993.
Investigators found Heath's throat had been cut.
Around her body were the footprints of her 2 small children.
"I was not surprised of the verdict nor the sentence," said attorney Mickey
Buchanan, who represented Johnson in 1997 during his 2nd murder trial.
"The evidence in the 1st trial was presented and he was found guilty and was
given the death penalty," Buchanan explained.
"And it was moved to another county and the same evidence was presented. And
the opinion was the same in both cases."
Yet the appeals keep coming.
Brian Cheshir, the Ninth Judicial District prosecuting attorney, says mounds of
paperwork and appeals in this case, including new DNA testing, have kept his
"Stacey Johnson was not entitled to the relief he was requesting post
conviction DNA based on the fact it was untimely under the stature to ask for
new DNA testing. He had to do it within 36 months of the time of his
Cheshir and Cooper said they plan to be there as witnesses if the execution is
held as scheduled Thursday.
(source: KSLA news)
Arkansas Determined to Fight Challenges to Executions----The company who sold
the drug to the prison system said it would not have done so had it known it
would be used in executions, and is demanding the drug be either returned or
Arkansas has said it will appeal a court ruling that bars the U.S. state's use
of a lethal injection drug and effectively puts a stop to its plans to execute
8 prisoners in 11 days.
A state circuit judge issued the temporary restraining order on Wednesday after
the U.S. pharmaceutical firm McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of
obtaining the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide under false pretences.
The company, a unit of McKesson Corp, said it would not have sold the drug to
the Arkansas prison system had it known it would be used in executions, and is
demanding the drug is either returned or confiscated.
The ruling delivered a further setback for the state, which last carried out an
execution a dozen years ago and contends it must act quickly because its supply
of another of the three drugs used in the lethal mix expires at the end of
A spokesman for State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she
would appeal the ruling before the state's Supreme Court.
The execution of 8 death row inmates would be the most by any U.S. state in
such a short period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Arkansas officials have said they cannot obtain the drug from any other source,
and have acknowledged in court papers that should McKesson prevail, all pending
executions would be blocked.
Governor Asa Hutchinson said he was "both surprised and disappointed" by the
latest legal delays.
The state had originally planned to execute 8 death row inmates in 4 pairs in a
span of 11 days, starting on April 17 and ending on April 27.
However, amid a flurry of legal challenges, 4 of the condemned prisoners have
won stays of execution. Arkansas's Supreme Court issued the latest of those
reprieves, for condemned killer Stacey Johnson, minutes before the lower-court
ruling on McKesson's request.
Johnson was convicted of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Carol Heath.
Prosecutors said he beat, strangled and slit Heath's throat while her
6-year-old daughter watched. Judges sent Johnson's case back to the trial court
to allow for new DNA evidence.
An appeal of Johnson's stay of execution was undecided, the attorney general's
Also still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight
prisoners contending that the compressed execution schedule increases the
likelihood of a botched lethal injection. A federal appeals court had rejected
Arkansas' death penalty push comes after the number of U.S. executions fell to
a quarter-century low in 2016. (For a graphic on the number and method of U.S.
executions, see: http://tmsnrt.rs/26wAN2v).
(source: US News & World Report)
Judge disputes claims that his death penalty protest violated judicial
An Arkansas judge who also serves as a Baptist pastor defended his
participation in a death penalty protest after issuing a court order barring
the state from using an execution drug, saying his ruling on facts in a
property dispute had nothing to do with his personal views on capital
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen said in a blog April 19 he was
preparing to join other members of New Millennium Church in Little Rock for a
Good Friday prayer vigil outside the Arkansas Governor's Mansion when he
received a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to block the 1st of a
series of executions scheduled to begin the day after Easter.
The party bringing the complaint claimed the Arkansas Department of Corrections
had purchased vercuronium bromide - 1 of 3 drugs used in the state's secretive
execution protocol - illegally under false pretenses and wanted the product
Griffen determined the presented facts showed the drug's distributor risked
imminent and irreparable harm and had a legal claim likely enough to succeed to
order the state not to use or dispose of the drug until a hearing. He then went
to the protest, where for an hour-and-a-half he lay on a cot posing as a dead
man "in solidarity with Jesus, the leader of our religion who was put to death
by crucifixion by the Roman Empire."
Death penalty supporters responded to the judge's reenactment by calling for
his impeachment. On Monday the Arkansas Supreme Court removed Griffen from all
pending death penalty and lethal injection protocol cases "to ensure that all
are given a fair and impartial tribunal."
The high court also referred Griffen to the state's Judicial Discipline and
Disability Commission to determine whether he violated the Code of Judicial
Conduct requiring judges to "maintain the dignity of judicial office at all
times, and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their
professional and personal lives" and conduct themselves in ways that ensure
"the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality,
integrity, and confidence."
Griffen said whether or not the drug distributor was entitled to a temporary
restraining order, he is entitled to practice his religion.
"Whether I attended the Good Friday vigil or not does not change property law,"
he said. "Whether anyone approves or disapproves of me attending the Good
Friday vigil does not change property law. Whether I support or am opposed to
capital punishment does not change property law. I am entitled to practice my
religion - whether I am a judge or not - even if others disapprove of the way I
Griffen, a member of the search committee that recommended Cooperative Baptist
Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter and a keynote speaker at the CBF
General Assembly in 2013, denounced secrecy in the execution process at a
breakout session on the death penalty at last year's General Assembly in
"If you want to euthanize your dog, you know that under your state only the
people who have certain credentials can put your dog down," Griffen said at the
CBF workshop. "If you want to euthanize your neighbor - if you want to kill
your neighbor in the name of the state - I 10-time double-dog dare you to find
out the qualifications of the person who is doing it."
"As a matter of fact, there is no requirement that the state tell you, and they
have an affirmative obligation to not disclose that," the judge continued. "It
is amazing. One would call it irony, but it's too nice a word."
Griffen said in Wednesday's blog he recognizes that people have strong views on
"I have strong views about capital punishment also," he acknowledged. "But none
of our views about capital punishment, whatever they may be and however
strongly we may hold them, affect the facts in the TRO motion I reviewed and
decided on Good Friday. None of our views about capital punishment, whatever
they may be and however strongly we may hold them, are relevant on whether
anyone has a legal claim to recover property that has been wrongfully obtained
and is threatened to be imminently and irreparably used despite the demand of
its rightful owner."
Griffen has long argued that his judicial role does not negate his
responsibility to speak prophetically as a pastor, often leading to clashes
with political opponents.
As a member of the Arkansas Court of Appeals appointed by Gov. Jim Guy Tucker
in 1996, Griffen clashed with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability
Commission over comments in 2002 criticizing the University of Arkansas' racial
diversity in the wake of the firing of popular basketball coach Nolan
Richardson. He later criticized President Bush, the war in Iraq and the U.S.
response to Hurricane Katrina.
The ethics panel eventually dropped its case against Griffen, but he was voted
out of office when he sought re-election in 2008. In 2010, he was elected to
Circuit Judge for the 5th Division in Arkansas and re-elected in 2016.
Last November Griffen blogged about male white supremacy and President Donald
Trump. Recently he opposed a proposal to increase public funding of Little Rock
School District, protesting the district's January 2015 takeover by the
Arkansas Board of Education and dissolution of a majority-black school board
elected by voters in 2014.
"I was not supposed to think about whether making the correct legal decision
would be popular to anyone, including myself, the moving party, the Department
of Correction, or anyone else," Griffen said of last Friday's ruling. "I was
supposed to focus on the facts and the law."
"That is what judges do, whether we are religious or not," he said. "That is
what judges do, whether we support or oppose capital punishment. This is what
judges do, whether other people like it or not."
(source: Baptist News)
2 Arkansas death row inmates claim they're too obese to execute
2 Arkansas death row inmates, Marcel Williams and Stacey Eugene Johnson, have
asked a federal judge to halt their executions because they say they are too
obese for the drugs to effectively work on them.
Williams' lawyer writes in a brief that Williams gained 200 pounds while in
prison and that when he went to prison he weighed 195 pounds.
Williams has stayed in a 90-square-foot cell, which is 1/2 the size of a
standard parking space, and gets 1 hour of recreational time a day.
"Williams has been housed in extreme solitary confinement, he has gained 200
pounds and developed high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. The
prison has recorded Mr. Williams' body mass index at 48.74," his lawyer writes
in a brief.
Johnson's lawyer wrote in a court document that he weighs about 350 pounds and
suffers from hypertension and sleep apnea.
Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at the
Emory University School of Medicine, found that Johnson's large size could
botch the execution and "makes it more likely that the execution will fail and
Mr. Johnson will be left alive, but disabled from the attempt."
They also argue the executioners will not be able to find a vein.
"Dr. Zivot concluded that if the Arkansas lethal-injection protocol is carried
out as written, Mr. Johnson, in particular, will suffer respiratory distress
and hypoxia, and he is at serious risk for irreversible organ damage or for a
suffocating, painful death," the lawyer writes in the brief.
(source: KATV news)
Nebraska senators debate lethal injection secrecy bill
A proposal that would let Nebraska officials hide the identities of lethal
injection suppliers drew criticism Wednesday from death penalty opponents but
support from lawmakers who say the state needs it to resume executions.
It was unclear whether the bill had enough support to overcome a filibuster,
but the senator who introduced it said he believes he has a decent chance to
advance it through the Legislature.
Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell said the bill seeks to protect drug makers who
would otherwise face public harassment from death penalty opponents. Commonly
used lethal injection drugs have become scarce because many North American and
European pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell drugs for use in executions.
"I believe the harm created by this disclosure far outweighs any alleged
benefit," said Kuehn, a veterinarian who said he has faced drug shortages in
Lawmakers began debate on the bill Wednesday but adjourned for the day without
voting on it.
Kuehn said concealing the supplier's identity would allow Nebraska officials to
purchase drugs from a domestic supplier, such as a compounding pharmacy, to
circumvent the problems associated with importing overseas drugs.
Kuehn said he never wanted to deal with capital punishment when he ran for
office, but he views the loss of legitimate drugs as too great a problem. He
said the supplier's identity was irrelevant to the drugs' quality.
"I truly do believe this is an issue of social justice," he said.
Opponents said the state should keep its current transparent process that
requires the Department of Correctional Services to disclose its suppliers.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, a staunch death penalty opponent, predicted the
bill would trigger new appeals and that the courts would make "mincemeat" out
of it. Chambers said death penalty supporters should blame themselves for the
"They took something that was wholesome, something designed to promote health,
and turned it into a killing substance," Chambers said.
Nebraska corrections director Scott Frakes has said he has already started to
look for drugs to carry out executions, but told a legislative committee in
February that it would be "very difficult" to acquire them if the department
was forced to identify its suppliers.
Of the 31 states with the death penalty, 15 have enacted similar shield laws.
Gov. Pete Ricketts approved a new lethal injection protocol in January that
gives the Department of Correctional Services greater flexibility to choose
which drugs are used in executions. An early draft of the protocol included a
secrecy provision, but Frakes said department officials removed it after
deciding they first needed legislative approval.
Voters signaled their support for the death penalty last year when they
overturned the Legislature's 2015 decision to abolish capital punishment. The
issue was placed on the ballot through a referendum partially financed by
Ricketts, who supports capital punishment.
Death penalty supporters portrayed the vote as a mandate for state officials to
resume executions. Nebraska hasn't executed an inmate since 1997, using the
electric chair. The state has 10 men on death row, but has never carried out
the punishment with lethal injection.
"We do not have the right to obstruct justice, and that is what is happening
here," said Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte. Defendants sentenced to death
"are the worst of the worst of the human race. They chose their fate."
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Omaha, a death penalty opponent, said voters never
specified whether they supported concealing suppliers' identities.
(source: Associated Press)
No public value in revealing names of lethal injection drug suppliers, says
sponsor of bill to hide the IDs
The sponsor of legislation that would hide the identities of lethal injection
drug suppliers in Nebraska argued Wednesday that there is no public value in
disclosing the names of pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Opponents of the lethal injection bill countered that an open accounting of tax
expenditures is fundamental to good government and that it should not be
"thrown away" to make executions easier for state officials.
State lawmakers launched the debate on Legislative Bill 661 this morning before
breaking for lunch. They will return to the discussion later this afternoon
before they adjourn for the day.
It will then be up to Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, the bill's sponsor, to show
he has a filibuster-proof majority before the bill would be scheduled for
additional debate this year.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha along with other opponents have indicated they
will stretch out the debate to 6 hours, when a vote to end a filibuster could
be taken. It takes a supermajority of 33 of the of the 49 senators to stop the
delay tactic and force and up-or-down vote on a bill.
The bill seeks to change Nebraska's public records law so state officials could
legally withhold information related to the identity of an individual or
business that "manufactures, supplies, compounds or prescribes" execution
drugs. Drug secrecy laws are on the books in 15 of the 31 states with the death
penalty, Kuehn said.
The courts have generally ruled against inmates who've challenged the secrecy
laws. Kuehn said he patterned his bill after the law in Georgia, which was
upheld by that state's Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision in 2014.
He said only the maker of the drugs would be shielded. Information about the
types, dosages and testing results of the drugs to be used in an execution
would still be disclosed to the condemned inmate.
Anti-death penalty activists have harassed and threatened drug manufacturers
and pharmacists willing to compound the substances for execution purposes,
Kuehn argued. As a result, many drugmakers no longer consent to the use of
their products in prison death chambers.
Another consequence of the activism has been to make some types of anesthetic
drugs, once widely used in surgeries and other medical procedures, impossible
or difficult to obtain in the United States and other countries. Kuehn called
it hypocritical of activists to endanger the health and lives of the innocent
to protect the lives of those on death row.
"When we weigh the value of that public record, what is the question of cost,"
he asked his colleagues.
Chambers said that a state execution represents the "ceremonial destruction of
the life of a citizen" and that all aspects of it should be open to public
scrutiny. He mentioned how in 2015, the Department of Correctional Services
paid a foreign broker named Chris Harris $54,400 for 2 lethal substances it
Because the department was required to disclose the broker's name, however, the
public learned Harris was the same businessman who a Swiss manufacture had
accused of using lying to obtain a lethal drug he then sold to Nebraska in
"This bill ... is designed to deprive the public of information it ought to
have about how its government is carrying out the most solemn, most
consequential act a government can perform," Chambers said.
Other supporters of the secrecy bill, however, argued the measure should pass
in response to the November election, in which 61 % of Nebraska voters reversed
the 2015 repeal of capital punishment.
"The death penalty is something the state of Nebraska needs to have, and we
need to have the ability to carry it out," said Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango.
(source: Omaha World-Herald)
There ought to be a death penalty exemption for the seriously mentally ill
In July 2015, as a Colorado jury debated the fate of James Holmes, a young man
with schizophrenia who killed 13 people in a movie theater, I collected letters
of support for his parents. From across the United States, mothers of young
adults living with serious mental illness sent me their stories of trying and
failing to get treatment for their children.
One mother wrote, "It wasn't your beautiful son who hurt all those people. It
was the untreated brain illness that is so misunderstood. People with
schizophrenia are not evil; they are ill."
Is it hard for you to feel sympathy for a murderer? While the Colorado shooting
was awful, and the anger and grief of the victims is natural, parents of the
nearly 10 million U.S. citizens living with serious mental illness understand
that sentencing Holmes to death would only have exacerbated the tragedy. As the
president of Boise's National Alliance on Mental Illness affiliate, I support
the Idaho Alliance for the Serous Mental Illness Death Penalty Exemption
(IASMIE), a coalition of law enforcement officers, healthcare providers, faith
leaders and advocates striving to find a better solution.
People living with untreated mental illness who commit violent crimes often
lack the capacity to understand or control their behavior. As a mother of a
young man who lived with untreated serious mental illness, I have seen
firsthand the consequences of this choice-stealing brain disease. When treated,
people living with serious mental illness are no more likely to be violent than
anyone else. But community based, high quality treatment is still difficult to
access for many individuals and their families.
What does this mean for capital cases? Since 1983, more than 60 adults living
with serious mental illness or intellectual disability have been executed
across the country. Experts estimate that 20 % of the people currently on death
row live with serious mental illness. False media portrayals of "dangerous
madmen" notwithstanding, this illness is largely genetic, and medical experts
agree that "faking" symptoms of impairment is nearly impossible. In most cases,
serious mental illness has been documented for years.
Idaho law currently excludes people living with intellectual disabilities from
the death penalty. There are many reasons for extending this exemption to
people living with mental illness. In addition to providing an ethical,
compassionate approach, a death penalty exemption could save taxpayers hundreds
of thousands of dollars per case, while also ensuring that those convicted were
still prosecuted and sentenced appropriately, including life without
possibility of parole.
If you feel like someone living with a brain tumor would not deserve the death
penalty, can you feel the same way for James Holmes? What would you want if
your own child were sick and committed a capital crime? Creating a death
penalty exemption will save money, but more importantly, it will acknowledge
the medical reality that families like mine face. Behavioral symptoms of
serious mental illness are not choices.
(source: Opinion; Liza Long is the president of the National Alliance on Mental
Illness Boise affiliate----Idaho Statesman)
Shooting rampage could result in a rarity - death penalty for suspect
Fresno police were busy Wednesday preparing official reports in the wake of a
deadly crime rampage that ended in 4 homicides - killings that could result in
a death sentence for accused mass murderer Kori Ali Muhammad.
Once the police reports are turned over to the District Attorney's Office,
prosecutors plan to file charges Thursday. Muhammad likely will be arraigned
Friday in Superior Court.
Muhammad, 39, is accused of killing Zachary David Randalls, 34, of Clovis, Mark
James Gassett, 37, of Fresno, and David Martin Jackson, 58, of Fresno in a
shooting rampage on Tuesday near downtown Fresno. He also is suspected in the
April 13 shooting death of security guard Carl Allen Williams III at a Motel 6.
Muhammad, 39, is black. All of his victims were white. Police Chief Jerry Dyer
has said the killings were fueled by Muhammad's hatred of white people.
Because Muhammad is suspected of committing multiple murders, the law allows
prosecutors to seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said Wednesday he could not comment
because prosecutors have a policy against talking about pending cases.
But Fresno defense lawyer Ralph Torres, who defended mass murderer Marcus
Wesson in 2005, said prosecutors will likely seek a death sentence for
Muhammad. "There's no doubt in my mind they will go all the way," Torres said.
Seeking the death penalty is rare. Wesson was sentenced to death in Fresno
County Superior Court in 2005 after being convicted of orchestrating the 2004
killings of 9 of his children. The last Fresno County defendant to receive the
death penalty was Eddie Ricky Nealy, who who was convicted in September 2013 of
the 1985 rape and killing of Fresno teen Jody Lynn Wolf.
Wesson, 70, and Nealy, 60, remain on death row at San Quentin Prison.
From reading news reports about the Muhammad case, Torres said there are
similarities between it and Wesson. "Both are sensational killings," Torres
said. "And the way in which they occurred. There's a kind of horror associated
The last Fresno County defendant to receive the death penalty was Eddie Ricky
Nealy, who was convicted in September 2013 of the 1985 rape and killing of
Fresno teen Jody Lynn Wolf.
He said prosecutors will likely charge the special-circumstance allegation of
committing multiple murders. Prosecutors also could consider the
special-circumstance allegation of lying in wait, he said.
"But you only need one special-circumstance allegation to go for the death
penalty," Torres said.
Typically, prosecutors don't make the decision to seek a death sentence until
after the defendant has a preliminary hearing, which will determine whether the
defendant should stand trial.
Torres said the decision to seek a death sentence also comes after defense
attorneys are given the opportunity to speak with District Attorney Lisa
Smittcamp and her administrative staff and provide them with evidence on why
the death penalty might not be appropriate, Torres said.
"It's still too early to tell, but on first impression, this case has all the
elements for prosecutors to seek a death sentence," Torres said.
The ignoble history of the 3-drug death penalty cocktail
When Ohio announced in 2009 that it planned to abandon the 3-drug lethal
injection protocol that virtually all jurisdictions had employed for the past 3
decades, many assumed that most other states would soon follow suit. After all,
Ohio's new protocol, which involved an overdose of a single barbiturate, was
touted as being easier to administer and less risky.
8 years later, however, the three-drug protocol is still very much in use, and
its current application likely violates the 8th Amendment's prohibition on
cruel and unusual punishment. Despite demonstrated concerns, Arkansas planned
to use it to execute 8 prisoners by the end of April. But for court rulings
staying some of the executions, the unprecedented state killings would already
The 3-drug protocol has an ignoble history. In the late 1970s, a medical
examiner in Oklahoma, Jay Chapman, developed a procedure that involved, 1st, an
anesthetic to render the prisoner unconscious; 2nd, a paralyzing agent to
render him immobile; and 3rd, potassium chloride to stop his heart. No one in
the scientific or medical community vetted Chapman's creation, nor was it
subjected to testing of any kind. Chapman himself had no expertise in this
area; as a medical examiner, he admitted that he "was an expert in dead bodies
but not an expert in getting that way."
Nevertheless, virtually every death penalty state adopted Chapman's procedure.
The maladministration of lethal injection procedures has been well-documented
in many states over the past 10 years.
A criticism of the 3-drug protocol, and one key reason that its current use may
constitute cruel and unusual punishment, is that the paralyzing agent serves no
medical purpose, nor is it needed to cause death. Instead, paralysis renders it
virtually impossible to discern whether the prisoner is suffering.
This is no fanciful concern. Paralyzing drugs are derived from a poison called
curare, which was used in the barbaric 19th century practice of vivisection -
the dissection of living animals for medical experimentation. In 1868, Swedish
physiologist A.F. Holmgren described the use of curare as changing one
"instantly into a living corpse, which hears and sees and knows everything, but
is unable to move a single muscle, and under its influence no creature can give
the faintest indication of its hopeless condition."
42 of 50 states bar the use of such drugs in animal euthanasia because if
something goes wrong and the animal is not properly rendered unconscious, it's
impossible to know. As one animal welfare organization wrote to New York
legislators in 1987 in support of a ban on paralytics in euthanasia, "drugs
containing paralytic agents ... can cause acute suffering before an animal
dies." The Humane Society of the United States has stated that it is the "moral
and ethical duty" of its members to end the practice of "injecting animals with
curare-based or paralytic substances."
It's true that if the 1st drug in the 3-drug protocol is an anesthetic and if
it's administered properly and in the right dosage, then the prisoner won't
feel the effects of the paralytic or the potassium chloride. But the
maladministration of lethal injection procedures has been well-documented in
many states over the past 10 years (including, notably, California). Even a
1-drug protocol can go horribly awry if the drug is of unknown provenance or if
the execution personnel are unqualified or untrained. Proper administration
cannot be taken for granted.
Arkansas' version of the 3-drug protocol is particularly troubling because the
state does not even plan to use an anesthetic as the 1st drug. Instead, its
protocol calls for midazolam, a sedative that cannot, at any dosage, render a
person unconscious and insensate to pain and suffering. In other words, even if
the protocol is administered properly, it cannot work as intended because the
1st drug is not an anesthetic. Midazolam has led to botched executions in
Arizona, Oklahoma, and Ohio - and Arizona has agreed to ban its use in future
Despite grave concerns about midazolam as an execution drug, we may never know
whether it works - or fails - in the spate of executions Arkansas has planned.
The prisoners will be paralyzed, unable to move a muscle, unable to indicate in
any way if they are experiencing the suffocating effects of the paralytic and
the searing pain of the potassium chloride. That's more than an execution.
(source: Op-Ed; Ty Alper is a clinical professor of law and associate dean at
UC Berkeley School of Law----Los Angeles Times)
Does death penalty meet Jewish values?
Although a large portion of the US Jewish community is opposed to the death
penalty, an issue that has recently been making headlines following cases in
Arkansas, the concept of capital punishment has its roots in the Bible and is
mandated by the Torah, New York rabbis told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The issue has sparked debate again in April after the State of Arkansas
announced plans to execute 8 inmates on death row by the end of the month, when
the state's stock of a lethal injection drug expires.
On Monday, the Supreme Court blocked 2 of the executions, just hours before
they were scheduled to take place. These would have been the state's 1st
executions in over a decade. The legal battle over the fate of the death row
inmates is ongoing.
Orthodox Rabbi Allen Schwartz of Congregation Ohab Zedek on the Upper West Side
told the Post that while the Torah calls for the death penalty for many
violations, it is used very carefully, and more as a deterrent.
"It says that if a Jew was put to death once in 70 years, that is considered a
bloody century," he said. "It was rarely ever promulgated."
While in the texts, crimes like adultery and violation of Shabbat were
punishable by death, today the sentence is mainly reserved for murder.
"It is clearly the worst of all sins," Schwartz said. "The people in Arkansas
who are on death row are there for taking life, not for egregious drug sales.
The country would not kill Bernie Madoff for stealing 65 million dollars. He'll
spend the rest of his life in jail but they're not gonna kill him for that."
Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Manhattan Jewish Experience, a community for young
Jews in New York, added that in order to carry out an execution, "Jewish law
requires so much of the prosecution that it is almost impossible to carry out
the death penalty in practical reality."
Wildes said from a Jewish point of view, the evidence against the defendant in
a death row case needs to be very conclusive, to the point that there is no
doubt the person has committed the crime.
"To favor the death penalty as Jews, the American legal system would need to
require the prosecution to provide more evidence than the current American
system requires, to ensure a higher level of certainty that the defendant had
in fact committed the crime," he said.
But according to Schwartz, while capital punishment could be debated for sins
other than murder, "the taking of a life is something so egregious that there
is no punishment that can atone for such a sin."
"For people who kill others... there is only 1 approach that mankind has to
have to this, and it says so again and again in the Torah," he told the Post.
"If Jews are saying they are categorically against the death penalty, I don't
know if that's a Torah value."
Nevertheless, the risk of executing an innocent person shouldn't be taken
lightly, the rabbis agreed.
"There is no threshold for even 1 out of 1,000 people killed without deserving
it," Schwartz stated. "You don't want to get the death penalty wrong, but when
it's unequivocal that this person took life, you have unequivocal evidence,
then Judaism is also unequivocal about that."
In addition, Judaism strongly focuses on the idea of teshuva, repentance for
one's sins, an idea that often seems to be in conflict with the finality of
"Judaism believes in giving as many opportunities as possible for the convicted
to repent," Wildes pointed out. "There really is no idea of punishing for the
sake of punishing in Judaism - it's all part of enabling the convicted person
to be restored spiritually and ethically."
Although repentance is an indispensable part of the rehabilitative process,
Schwartz believes it can still go hand in hand with execution.
"If someone unequivocally committed murder, part of his teshuva is being
killed," he said.
If the executions in Arkansas are carried out after all, they would be a major
step back in the US. According to data published last week by Amnesty
International, the number of executions have significantly declined in the
country in recent years.
In 2016, only 20 executions were carried out in the US, the country's lowest
number since 1991.
For the 1st time in 10 years, the US was also not 1 of the 5 biggest
executioners, falling to 7th place. Most executions took place in China, Iran,
Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan - in that order.
(source: Jerusalem Post)
Refusing to Make a Monster out of God: Shane Claiborne on the Death Penalty.
A native of Tennessee, Claiborne calls on Christians, especially Evangelicals,
to turn toward a practice of nonviolence, social justice, and solidarity with
Activists campaigning to abolish the death penalty recently confronted a new
and urgent occasion for their efforts, when the state of Arkansas announced it
would execute 8 death-row inmates in a ten-day period because its store of
chemicals for lethal injection was about to expire.
Among the newer activists to the decades-old struggle to end state-sponsored
killing of people convicted of crimes is activist and writer Shane Claiborne. A
native of Tennessee and graduate of Eastern University in suburban
Philadelphia, Claiborne in the mid-1990s helped found the Christian community
The Simple Way in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood, where he still lives.
He has since become an influential and prolific voice calling on Christians,
especially Evangelicals, to turn toward a practice of nonviolence, social
justice, and solidarity with the poor that he finds at the core of the life of
Jesus and the message of the New Testament.
In 2016, Claiborne published Executing Grace, a prayerful manifesto making a
Biblically based case for the abolishing the death penalty and replacing it
with restorative justice. During a Palm Sunday weekend visit to Madison,
Wisconsin, as well as in a brief follow-up email exchange, Claiborne spoke with
The Progressive about why his faith calls him to the movement to abolish the
death penalty - a movement that crosses religious and secular lines and even
brings together the families of crime victims and those condemned to die.
Q: You write that you once defended the death penalty. How did you come to
change your mind?
Shane Claiborne: A lot of it had to do with taking a closer look at the Bible.
I had a very surface understanding of some things, like "an eye for an eye, a
tooth for a tooth." The great thing about being at a good Christian college is
that we dove deeper into some of those. We say, "There's more to 'an eye for an
eye' than meets the eye." So that was part of it - good theology, deeper
But the personal side of it was a big deal. A lot of the people in the stories
I write about have become close friends, particularly murder victims' family
members that are against the death penalty. Many of them are compelled by their
faith to find alternatives, convinced that it doesn't actually bring closure,
it just extends the trauma and creates a whole new set of victims. It
legitimizes this kind of very immoral violence that we're trying to heal the
Q: You obviously had to seek out those stories. What drove that?
Claiborne: After I wrote my 1st book, I started giving it away to people in
prison and got to know more and more of these stories. I saw more and more
folks like my friend Art Laffin, a Catholic Worker against war and also against
the death penalty. Then his brother was killed by a man who struggled mentally,
and that became personal to him. Some of the most heroic redemptive voices that
I see are folks that have used their deep pain and trauma to try to heal the
wounds rather than exacerbate the resentment of violence.
Some of the most heroic redemptive voices that I see are folks that have used
their deep pain and trauma to try to heal the wounds rather than exacerbate the
resentment of violence.
Q: You point out that the Bible Belt is now the death belt. Why is it that
conservative Christians still tend to staunchly support the death penalty?
Claiborne: In the Bible Belt, I still think that there is an underlying moral
or theological justification for the death penalty.
Some of it is how we understand Jesus' death. We're missing the whole point of
Easter when Arkansas is going to slaughter seven or eight people after Easter!
There's a racial dynamic: It's largely white evangelicals [who support
execution]. Similar to the 81 % who voted for Trump.
But now, I think there's some really beautiful signs. Millennial Christians are
overwhelmingly against the death penalty. They're like, "I can't reconcile this
with Jesus - 'Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.'" Also,
[some] conservatives have turned against the death penalty. It's consistent
with the conservative ideology of, "How much do we trust our government?"
Q: Is there a specific theological interpretation of Jesus' life, death, and
resurrection that justifies the death penalty in some people's minds?
Claiborne: We've used some really dangerous theology to write a blank check to
all authority. When you say "all authorities are established by God" - I think
it's a mis-reading of Romans 13 to say that means God endorses every government
and every authority. What do you do with Hitler, what do you do with Saddam
Hussein? What do you do with a professing Christian regime in Uganda that wants
to execute folks for same-gendered relationships? Our government in the
practice of the death penalty and mass incarceration has a lot of room for
I do think there's ways of understanding why Jesus died that can end up
creating almost a monster out of God, a God that needs blood. I think that
Jesus died to end the sacrificial system, to say, "There is no need for more
blood." Any time we continue to try to cling to this blood atonement for
crimes, we undermine the very redemptive work of Jesus.
I think that Jesus died to end the sacrificial system, to say, "There is no
need for more blood."
Q: Earlier this year, you were part of a group arrested at the Supreme Court
for protesting the death penalty.
Claiborne: It was the 40th anniversary of the first modern-era execution: Gary
Gilmore. We used that anniversary as a fresh call to end the death penalty. We
had the names [of] over 1,400 people who have been executed. And even as we did
it, there was an execution imminent in Virginia that did go forward. We wanted
to do provocative public witness.
We carried roses in 2 different colors: 1 for the victims of violent crimes,
and 1 for the victims of state-sanctioned execution and their families. To be
anti-death penalty doesn't mean we're anti-victim. We had murder victims'
family members and families of the executed who were there together and even
went to jail together. One of the banners that they had said, "Remember the
victims, but not with more killing."
18 of us went to jail for holding a banner saying that your First Amendment
ends on the property of the Supreme Court. We will challenge that. Our deepest
concern is to use our trial to put the death penalty on trial. Our trial is on
the anniversary of Furman v. Georgia, which is the case that the Supreme Court
stopped executions and ruled that the death penalty was arbitrary and
capricious. It's absurd that we're going to trial for holding a banner. We were
handcuffed, shackled, chained at our feet, hands and waist, and held in jail
for 30 hours. And at the end of the day, our courts continue to practice this
thing of killing our own citizens.
Q: For people who don't see themselves as directly affected - they don't know
any victims of fatal violence, they don't know anybody on death row - how do
they engage this issue?
Claiborne: Listen to some of the folks [talk about how] the death penalty has
devastated their lives. And as Hebrews says, "Remember those in prison as if
you yourselves were in prison."
There are amazing stories that point the world towards healing from trauma and
from violence. And in a world that's so plagued by violence, I think they have
a lot to teach us about moving forward without mirroring the very violence that
we see in the world.
Q: You've written about the marginalization of victims and survivors who oppose
the death penalty.
Claiborne: SueZann Bosler is one of those. She was basically given a gag order.
She was threatened with contempt of court when she said that she didn't want
the death penalty, and even though she was stabbed in the head multiple times
[and] her dad was killed. He was a pastor, and she just said, "That's not what
he would want, that's not what I want." She's been a very incredible voice
against the death penalty, and there's just dozens and dozens of families like
Q: How hopeful are you about eventual abolition of the death penalty?
Claiborne: I'm really hopeful. Folks that I know have been working on this for
decades longer than I have are really hopeful. The signs are really everywhere
- that executions keep falling lower every year, death sentences are
dramatically lower, especially in the last year or so. There are setbacks -
California's narrow vote to keep the death penalty and even to expedite it,
Nebraska's massive battle there, pretty much single-handedly by the governor,
to keep it in place. But I'm really optimistic. Part of why there's such a
youthful enthusiasm around Bernie Sanders was that he was against the death
penalty. He said "In a world of violence, why would I want to add more to it?"
Q: How significant are the recent court rulings that have effectively halted
two of the eight planned executions in Arkansas?
Claiborne: The fact the 1st 2 of 8 executions were thwarted is something to
celebrate. But the fight is not over. Now we need to stop them all. Every
little step away from the death penalty is a step toward life and something
worth celebrating. But we who believe in true justice cannot rest until the
death penalty is dead, once and for all.
(source: The Progressive)
The Shocking Lack of Science Behind Lethal Injections
Until a judge told them to stop last week, penal authorities in Arkansas
planned to kill 7 people in 11 days. All 7 were convicted of horrible crimes
and sentenced to die by the state; put aside how you feel about that for a
moment. What's salient here is how those men are supposed to die - the
execution of their executions.
According to Arkansas' Lethal Injection Procedure, each man will first get an
intravenous injection of a sedative called midazolam, a benzodiazepene - the
same class of drugs as Valium. On death row it's supposed to induce a deep,
Then comes a dose of vecuronium bromide. Technically that's a nonpolarizing
neuromuscular blocker, a muscle relaxant. On death row, it's a paralytic,
intended to keep the prisoner still and, maybe, to suffocate. If you can't move
your diaphragm, you can't inhale.
All that's just a wind-up for the real kill shot: potassium chloride. The
potassium ion messes up the electrical properties of the cells of the heart,
making it impossible for them to contract. The heart stops beating.
Not every state executes prisoners the same way. Some only use one drug, or
follow different protocols. But the idea, everywhere, is the same: to execute
people without violating the Constitution's 8th Amendment protections against
cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, the whole point of lethal injection was
that it seems like a more humane way of executing someone than hanging,
shooting, head-chopping-off, gas chambers, stuff like that.
The problem is, no one knows if lethal injection really is more humane. In
court case after court case, lawyers have argued that botched executions by
lethal injection show that it's a painful and faulty method. What little
research exists hints at the same conclusion. No matter how you feel about the
fact that the criminal justice system sometimes kills people, even innocent
people, you have to also feel something about the fact that the criminal
justice system isn't very good at killing people.
Execution Isn't Easy
An Oklahoma medical examiner named Jay Chapman pitched the three-drug protocol
in 1977 - without a single study or piece of scientific evidence. But hey, it
definitely killed people, and executed them less disgustingly than poison gas
or gunshots. "No one has done any peer-reviewed experimental research into the
mechanisms of death by lethal injection," says Teresa Zimmers, a researcher at
Indiana University's School of Medicine and one of the few people to publish
research on the practice. "That, of course, is because support for the death
penalty in the US has generally rested on the fact that people perceive lethal
injection to be humane."
Chapman's original protocol called for a tranquilizer from the barbiturate
family. But by the 2000s, barbiturates were in short supply. Drug companies
find the use of their medicines as engines of death to be distressingly
off-brand, barbiturates were falling out of favor as anesthetics, and all of
Europe had prohibited the use of those drugs in executions, shrinking the
That forced states to search for an alternative. Ohio landed on the sedative
midazolam, and Florida started using it in 2013. The problem is, midazolam
turns out to be a terrible coma-inducer. Prisoners were waking up
mid-execution, coughing and snoring. "It's not even close to being an
appropriate drug for executions," says Robert Dunham, executive director of the
Death Penalty Information Center. "But when states were no longer able to get
ahold of anesthetic for use in executions, they casually looked around to see
what else doctors use to put somebody to sleep."
The thing is, when you're being executed with a 3-drug protocol, you really
want to be knocked out. That 2nd drug, the paralytic, is probably
extraordinarily painful the whole time you're suffocating - except no one can
tell, because, well, you're totally paralyzed. (Fun side note: The paralytics
are typically synthetic versions of curare.) The potassium chloride injection
burns like fire. And even with a barbiturate on board, people might feel all of
that every time.
The Search for a New Necrology
These gaps in knowledge seem fillable, but states have been less than
transparent about their practices, and scientists haven't wanted to look too
closely at lethal injection. "It's either that they don't know too much about
the science, or that they're not telling us," says Megan McCracken, an attorney
at UC Berkeley's Death Penalty Clinic who specializes in 8th Amendment
challenges. "As lawyers, we want to know, how did the state come up with a drug
formula? Who told them, or with whom did they consult, to come up with this
dose and this timing? And those questions they decline to disclose."
Even if states wanted to know more about anesthesia for executions, the
anesthesiologists themselves couldn't help. In general, big medical societies
like the American Medical Association prohibit their members from studying or
helping with executions. "It's inherently unethical to conduct experiments on
how to best execute people," says Dunham. "And the people best qualified won't
do it because it's a clear violation of the Hippocratic oath." One of the
lethal injection researchers I called for this story declined even to comment
on the subject.
You could imagine the set-up for a study to look at how lethal injection drugs
work, or might work better - depending on your definition of "better," of
course. Maybe an institutional review board (a group that approves the ethics
of study designs) would allow condemned prisoners to consent to analyses of
their responses. Or maybe not; the so-called Common Rule that protects human
research subjects singles out prisoners for special protections, having already
been deprived of various rights.
Or you could look to other literature on chemically-caused death. Some states
in the US allow physician-assisted suicide, for example. The Netherlands allows
euthanasia. But having a Dutch doctor standing by your bedside as you slip into
a coma you asked for is pretty different from someone pumping drugs from a
separate room through 20 feet of tubing. Veterinary protocols for large-mammal
euthanasia might be helpful, too, but they usually have more to do with keeping
handlers alive while trying to kill a dangerous animal. Oh, and the
veterinarians want about as much to do with executing humans as physicians do.
In a final cruel and unusual twist, a subsidiary finding in Glossip v. Gross -
the same 2015 Supreme Court decision that said it was OK if execution methods
caused pain and gave the go-ahead to using midazolam - said that any challenge
based on 8th Amendment rights had to include an alternative execution method.
It was basically the equivalent of saying that if you don't want to incriminate
yourself in courtroom testimony, you have to incriminate someone else. (Do it
to Julia! Not me!)
That's a problem, because the science to figure out that better alternative
doesn't exist. Still, some states have started advocating execution methods
beyond lethal injection anyway. Utah is looking at the firing squad. (A
classic!) Louisiana officials have talked about a gas chamber using nitrogen,
which is either a death as peaceful as falling asleep or just like drowning. No
one knows for sure. And for those half-dozen men on Arkansas' death row, it's
too late to find out.
Opinion If lethal injection is unacceptable, don't abandon the death penalty -
use a firing squad
To the editor: Arkansas had the right idea in trying execute 6 prisoners within
11 days - before its supply of a lethal-injection drug is set to expire in May
- but some judges and misguided activists got in its way. ("In flurry of
rulings, Arkansas' plan to execute inmates by month's end is halted," April 15)
Instead of protesting the death penalty, concerned citizens should protest
against armed robbery and murder. The punishment for capital crimes ought to be
carried out within a year of sentencing, not decades. We should also stop
relying on lethal-injection chemicals and instead use hanging or firing squads.
Ours is not a civilized society, so we must treat killers the same way they
treat their victims. This will have a definite impact on violent crime rates.
The only cruel and unusual punishment is what is done to the victims and their
Dave Cole, Cathedral City
To the editor: Why must executions rely solely on the availability of
I remember the story of the late professional golfer Payne Stewart and how the
loss of pressure in his jet aircraft led to the unconscious state of everyone
on board. They eventually died when the plane ran out of fuel and crashed.
Also, pilots in the military are trained in pressure chambers to recognize the
dangers of hypoxia in high altitude training.
The point is that individuals can slowly loose consciousness and eventually die
from lack of oxygen without pain or suffering.
Why don't prisons use hypobaric chambers instead of lethal injections to kill
condemned inmates? This would resolve the issue of drug availability.
Howard Kunihiro, Garden Grove
(source: Letters to the Editor, Los Angeles Times)
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