Secret sedative: How Missouri uses pentobarbital in executions
Missouri will use 2 of its 34 vials of the sedative pentobarbital on Tuesday
when it executes Marcellus Williams, who was convicted in the 1998 killing of
Felicia Gayle, former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter.
The state has enough pentobarbital for 17 executions, Williams' included,
according to a document obtained by St. Louis Public Radio. No one except the
state of Missouri knows where the stockpile comes from, despite lawsuits from
inmates and media outlets.
But there is 1 sure thing, according to 2 people who've witnessed executions in
Missouri and Georgia: Pentobarbital is a potent means of death.
The FDA-approved manufacturer of the drug will not sell directly to any state
for use in an execution and has made it clear it doesn't want 3rd-party
distributors to do so. Any compounding pharmacy that makes small,
quick-to-expire batches is shielded from public knowledge, too.
St. Louis Public Radio's Erica Hunzinger explains how pentobarbital works and
why Missouri's source is still a secret 4 years after the state began using it
Experts argue that such secrecy makes it difficult to know whether Missouri's
capital punishment process is constitutional.
"With a policy that is as important as the death penalty, and that has results
that are so final and irreversible, it's important that the policy be carried
out in the light of day," said Rob Dunham, the executive director of the
nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
What is pentobarbital?
Simply, pentobarbital is "a drug that slows down the electrical activity of the
brain and nerve cells," according to Dr. Aarti Sarwal, a neurologist and the
medical director of the critical care unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical
Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Pentobarbital is used in humans and animals. In a veterinary setting, it's
mostly for euthanasia, Dr. John Dodam, a professor at the University of
Missouri-Columbia's veterinary school, said. He noted the pentobarbital used in
that situation is for animals only and has species-specific versions of the
For humans, it's mostly used in operating rooms and intensive care units to
treat uncontrolled seizures and brain swelling. When injected, the drug goes to
the heart and is pumped throughout the body.
Sarwal noted: "It's unique in a manner that it reaches the brain tissue very
She described how pentobarbital affects a body when used in operating rooms and
ICUs to treat uncontrolled seizures and brain swelling. What follows does not
"It slows down the activity in the brain - it essentially puts you to sleep -
and, as the doses go higher, into almost a state of coma to the point of
completely shutting down. (The) rest of the body is controlled by nerve cells,
so similar effects happen there ... the nerves that affect your heart muscles
... get slowed down, so the heart muscles will start beating slower and slower,
essentially to the point of lowering your blood pressure. ...
"Same happens for breathing: The brain centers that regulate your breathing, as
well as the nerve cells that help the breathing muscles work, get slowed down.
... It also has several other effects, like slowing down your stomach activity
and pretty much any other activity in the body that's controlled by nerve
cells," she said.
And it isn't a drug that just any doctor can prescribe, Sarwal cautioned.
"Pentobarbital is a drug that has to be given by qualified providers who are
specifically trained to monitor the dosing and side effects ... So, this is not
part of typical medical school training. (Doctors) do get trained in
understanding the side effects but it does require special training, and the
use of pentobarbital is restricted to specific professions," she said.
Ohio was the 1st state to use a single-drug pentobarbital protocol in
executions in 2011 (it changed to a two-drug protocol a couple of years later
when pentobarbital became tougher to purchase). Texas followed in 2012, with
Georgia and Missouri joining in 2013 and Tennessee in 2015.
Other drugs, mostly used in 2- or 3-drug protocols, have led to botched
executions, such as the sedative midazolam in Oklahoma and Ohio. That's not the
case with pentobarbital, though that's not to say there haven't been problems.
In both Georgia and Texas, placing IVs in the arms of inmates who had been
heavy drug users caused some difficulty. Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter
Rhonda Cook said in the case of one execution, the team "couldn't get a vein,
and what they had to do is what they call a 'cut down' where they inserted the
IV at the base of his neck."
And in 2015, Georgia had to cancel a scheduled execution because the
pentobarbital was stored at too cold of a temperature.
"And what happened was the solids that are combined with the liquid to create
pentobarbital separated. So there were clumps in the containers that had the
pentobarbital," Cook said.
Missouri's protocol calls for inmates to be injected with 5 grams of
pentobarbital. That makes for a quick, lethal dose. Witnesses say it looks like
little more than someone falling asleep.
"There is seldom anything for us to really talk about except to say the person
was executed, might have gasped a couple of times and then became silent and
was pronounced dead a few minutes later. ... There's nothing especially
dramatic about it. It's very clinical," according to Bob Priddy, the former
news director of the statewide radio network Missourinet.
He's witnessed 22 executions in Missouri, including 2 pentobarbital-only ones,
and said, "I've never seen any discomfort. In fact ... the media witnesses get
a call from the attorney general's office usually the day or so after the
execution asking if we had seen any signs of discomfort or any signs of pain or
any struggles or anything like that. And the answer that I've always given is
'No. The person just went to sleep.'"
Missourinet's Bob Priddy describes state's execution chamber, what witnesses
can see and the chain of events when an inmate is put to death.
Missouri's protocol calls for the medical personnel on the execution team to
check whether a prisoner is dead after "a sufficient amount of time." When
asked for an estimate of how long that is, Department of Corrections spokesman
David Owen said it's about 5 minutes, which Priddy corroborated.
Cook has seen 26 executions in Georgia, many of them with the pentobarbital
protocol. She said that witnesses can see inmates' faces.
"You can watch his breathing. Every once in a while you can hear a sound like
they might blow, exhale tremendously," she said. "But mostly you can't hear
what's going on in the execution chamber."
She continued to describe what happens as the execution begins: "What I've seen
on occasion is the inmate will look at one of the arms, like he felt the drugs
moving through. ... You can tell it's happening because they will struggle to
keep their eyes open. The last one that I saw, he insisted on smiling as much
as he could. He would smile and then the smile would drift away and he would,
like, shake himself awake and smile again.
"But what happens is you just see them go to sleep. And you can see their chest
moving, and then after a while you no longer see their chest moving. ... It's
very respectful, as much as it can be. But it's very quiet," she said.
Rhonda Cook, a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, talks about
Georgia's execution process and what a witness sees during the capital
There's a lot at stake with a pentobarbital-only protocol, according to Megan
McCracken, an attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of
California-Berkeley law school. She???s worked on capital punishment cases
One factor, she said, is whether the execution will be free of cruel and
unusual punishment as the U.S. Constitution requires. She argued that the
public needs to know because it's a "simple question of good government and
whether or not the state is disclosing relevant information about its
executions or concealing that information."
Pentobarbital is made by 1 of 2 sources: A compounding pharmacy or an
Akorn is the only manufactured-pentobarbital supplier in the U.S. and has said
it will not sell to states that use the drug in their executions, and it has
asked 3rd-party suppliers to follow suit. A Buzzfeed report in January by
former St. Louis Public Radio reporter Chris McDaniel showed that, at some
point, Missouri purchased manufactured pentobarbital, but the timing and the
amount weren't clear in the now-sealed court documents.
Compounding pharmacies, according to Dunham with the Death Penalty Information
Center, are "state regulated and their quality - while they serve an important
purpose - their quality varies greatly."
Georgia and Texas are both transparent about obtaining their pentobarbital from
compounding pharmacies, although the names of those pharmacies are state
secrets. Dunham said that's because the pharmacies don't want people to know
they make the drugs so they don't lose business.
The pentobarbital made at compounding pharmacies is "typically produced in
anticipation of a pending execution," because it's shelf life is "weeks or
months. You're not talking years," Dunham said.
On the other hand, manufactured pentobarbital, known generically as nembutal,
is a different story, McCracken said.
"... (W)hat we know is that back when nembutal was available to departments of
correction, the expiration date was generally in the range of 2 to 2 1/2 years
from the time of purchase," she said.
It's unclear whether Missouri's 34 vials of pentobarbital are manufactured or
compounded. The Missouri Department of Corrections did not provide, as asked
for in the public records request, expiration dates for the vials, saying the
records are closed under state statutes.
(source: KBIA news)
Law Prof Mainero Says He'd Love to be DA but Hates the Politics
Chapman University law professor Mario Mainero wants to be Orange County's next
district attorney, but he's reluctant to leave his beloved classroom for an
uphill battle against 2 well-known and well-funded politicians.
"I'm not a fool. I'm not going to sit there and go, 'I think I'll run for
this,' and watch the other 2 people have 2 or 3 million dollars each," Mainero
said on the "Inside OC with Rick Reiff" public affairs program.
Next year's DA race is shaping up as a battle royal between 2 troubled
political heavyweights. Incumbent Tony Rackauckas is under siege from a
jailhouse snitch scandal that has brought judicial rebukes, case delays and
national embarrassment to his office; challenger and OC Supervisor Todd Spitzer
is dogged by questions about his judgment and temperament, exemplified in the
furor over his 2015 armed confrontation with a "suspicious" man in a Wahoo's
The situation has given rise to "anyone but Tony or Todd" chatter in legal and
political circles. Some commentators have welcomed the scholarly Mainero's
announcement that he's considering a run.
But Mainero, a Republican as are Rackauckas and Spitzer, held out little hope
of getting the party's endorsement:
"Parties just tend to stick with what they got and not take a stand when
there's a problem," Mainero said. "The Republican Party stood by (former OC
Sheriff) Mike Carona until he went to prison, for all intents and purposes. The
Republican Party is likely to stick with any incumbent."
Mainero returned to full-time teaching in 2009 after 2 1/2 often contentious
years as then-Supervisor John Moorlach's chief of staff.
"I am not particularly in love with politics," Mainero said. "I am in love with
policy and with trying to make things better through policy. ... That is not
going to get done in a mountain of attack pieces from both Mr. Rackauckas and
Mr. Spitzer. It just isn't."
He criticized Rackauckas as a poor manager who is too cozy with other
officeholders and unwilling to prosecute political misdeeds.
He was less harsh toward Spitzer, "who I consider a friend," and who worked
with Mainero on the establishment of the county ethics commission.
But he said Spitzer has done little more than attack Rackauckas without
explaining how he'd reform the DA's office. "That means Todd's a politician...
this is an office that ought not be political at all."
Mainero criticized both officials for their continued support of the death
penalty, calling it fiscally irresponsible. He said the millions of dollars
that go into death penalty trials, appeals and death-row housing would be
better spent fighting gangs, sex traffickers and identity thieves.
If elected, Mainero said he would take steps to raise ethical standards and
reduce politics in the DA's office. He said he would institute continuing
case-law education for attorneys and investigators; report ethics violators to
the state bar; leave it to his "professional prosecutors" to hold press
conferences and try high-profile cases; and move away from the post-election
practice "that has happened in prior times' of demoting or reassigning those
who supported a different candidate.
Mainero said if he doesn't run, he'd like to see someone else step forward,
mentioning as 1 possibility another ethics commission ally, former OC Common
Cause President Bill Mitchell.
9 people sentenced to death in Orange County since 2010. Could Scott Dekraai be
Orange County prosecutions have resulted in nine death sentences since 2010.
Admitted mass murderer Scott Dekraai could be the 10th, depending on whether a
judge takes the death penalty off the table. Dekraai killed 8 people in Seal
Beach in 2011, but the misuse of jailhouse informants by prosecutors and
deputies could convince the judge that Dekraai would not receive a fair penalty
California has 748 people on death row, 300 more than the next highest state.
California has put 513 people to death since 1893, with the vast majority of
executions from 1920 to 1940. In 1972 the California Supreme Court decided the
death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment. It was reinstated in 1978 but
executions did not resume until 1992.The last execution was in 2006.
California has more people on death row than Florida and Texas combined.
Alaska and Hawaii have no death penalty. Note: New Mexico, Connecticut and
Maryland abolished the death penalty but the law was not made retroactive so
each state has several inmates on death row.
(source: The Orange County Register)
Modesto death penalty case begins with testimony from slain woman's parents
A preliminary hearing for Martin Martinez, who is accused of killing his
girlfriend, Amanda Crews, and four others, is expected to begin Monday with
testimony from the Modesto woman's parents.
The 5 slayings occurred July 18, 2015, at Crews' home on Nob Hill Court in east
Modesto. In addition to Crews, 38, the victims were her daughters, 6-month-old
Rachael and 6-year-old Elizabeth; Martinez???s mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57;
and Martinez's 5-year-old niece, Esmeralda Navarro. Martinez was Rachael's
Crews' mother and stepfather are expected to testify in Stanislaus Superior
Court Monday. After the parents' testimony, the hearing is scheduled to
continue on Jan. 22.
It is very important to me and my family to move forward with this case in
order to aid in our healing. Delays make it very difficult and prolong our
Martinez's court-appointed attorneys on Aug. 2 asked the court to postpone next
week's hearing because they had just received a large amount of discovery
evidence from the prosecution. The evidence was handed over in a digital format
that is not accessible by the defense or the prosecution.
"We're provided such a large amount of data at such a late time before the
preliminary hearing starts," Stanislaus County Public Defender Sonny Sandhu
said in court on Aug. 2. "We don't know whether or not this information is
Deputy District Attorney Rick Mury told the judge that the prosecution has made
it clear to the Public Defender's Office through investigative reports what is
contained in the 3 hard drives with nine terabytes of information.
Kimberly Crews, Crews' twin sister, spoke in court, asking the judge not to
grant the defense's postponement request.
"It is very important to me and my family to move forward with this case in
order to aid in our healing," she told the judge. "Delays make it very
difficult and prolong our pain."
TESTIMONY CONTINUES NEXT YEAR
Judge Ricardo Cordova agreed to delay the hearing until Jan. 22, but he will
listen to testimony from Crews' parents on Monday. Her mother's health concerns
make it necessary for her to testify soon, the judge said, and her parents will
be called back to the witness stand if there's any information in the digital
data relevant to their testimony.
The preliminary hearing, which is expected to last a few weeks, will conclude
with the judge's ruling. Cordova will determine whether there's sufficient
evidence for Martinez to stand trial.
The defendant remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail. Prosecutors are
seeking the death penalty against Martinez. He has pleaded not guilty to 5
counts of murder.
CHILD ABUSE CASE
In a separate case, Martinez has been ordered to stand trial on charges of
murder and child abuse in the Oct. 2, 2014, death of Crews' 2-year-old son,
Christopher Ripley. The trial in Christopher's death has not been scheduled.
That case has been set aside, for now, as the case in the 2015 killings moves
Crews' son suffered severe head injuries on Sept. 30, 2014, while alone with
Martinez. The toddler died at a Madera children's hospital after 2 days on life
support. A child abuse expert and pediatrician at the hospital testified that
the boy's brain had suffered severe swelling. Bleeding also was found just
outside the brain.
Police investigators were about 2 weeks away from arresting Martinez in
Christopher's death when the 5 other homicides occurred. The defendant was
arrested in San Jose, several hours after the 5 bodies were discovered in the
Prosecutors believe Martinez killed Crews and his mother with a knife. The
criminal complaint in the case includes knife enhancements in the deaths of
Crews and Romero. Those enhancements do not appear on the murder charges for
the children. Authorities have not said how they died.
Death Penalty Fast Facts
Here's a look at the death penalty in the United States.
As of August 2017, capital punishment is legal in 31 US states.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 20 people were executed in
the United States in 2016, the lowest number since 1991. The number of death
sentences imposed was 30, a 39% decline from 2015's 40-year low.
There were 2,902 people on death row in the United States on October 1, 2016,
the most recent date for which data is available.
Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the US Supreme Court,
1,458 people have been executed (as of July 28, 2017).
Since 1973, there have been 159 death row exonerations (as of April 19, 2017).
27 of them are from the state of Florida.
Between January 1, 2017 and July 28, 2017, 16 executions were carried out in
seven states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The US government and US military have 61 people awaiting execution. (As of
July 25, 2017)
The US government has executed 4 people since 1963.
There are 54 women on death row in the United States (as of October 1, 2016).
16 women have been executed since the reinstatement of the death penalty (as of
October 1, 2016).
22 individuals were executed between 1985 and 2003 for crimes committed as
March 1, 2005 - Roper v. Simmons. The Supreme Court rules that the execution of
juvenile offenders is unconstitutional.
Since 1976, 282 individuals have been granted clemency for humanitarian
For federal death row inmates, the president alone has the power to grant a
1834 - Pennsylvania becomes the 1st state to move executions into correctional
facilities, ending public executions.
1838 - Discretionary death penalty statutes are enacted in Tennessee.
1846 - Michigan becomes the 1st state to abolish the death penalty for all
crimes except treason.
1890 - William Kemmler becomes the 1st person executed by electrocution.
1907-1917 - 9 states abolish the death penalty for all crimes or strictly limit
it. By 1920, 5 of those states had reinstated it.
1924 - The use of cyanide gas is introduced as an execution method.
1930s - Executions reach the highest levels in American history, averaging 167
June 29, 1972 - Furman v. Georgia. The Supreme Court effectively voids 40 death
penalty statutes and suspends the death penalty.
1976 - Gregg v. Georgia. The death penalty is reinstated.
January 17, 1977 - A 10-year moratorium on executions ends with the execution
of Gary Gilmore by firing squad in Utah.
1977 - Oklahoma becomes the 1st state to adopt lethal injection as a means of
December 7, 1982 - Charles Brooks becomes the 1st person executed by lethal
1984 - Velma Barfield of North Carolina becomes the 1st woman executed since
reinstatement of the death penalty.
1986 - Ford v. Wainwright. Execution of insane persons is banned.
1987 - McCleskey v. Kemp. Racial disparities are not recognized as a
constitutional violation of "equal protection of the law" unless intentional
racial discrimination against the defendant can be shown.
1988 - Thompson v. Oklahoma. Executions of offenders age 15 and younger at the
time of their crimes are declared unconstitutional.
1989 - Stanford v. Kentucky, and Wilkins v. Missouri. The Eighth Amendment does
not prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed at age 16 or 17.
1994 - President Bill Clinton signs the Violent Crime Control and Law
Enforcement Act that expands the federal death penalty.
1996 - The last execution by hanging takes place in Delaware, with the death of
January 31, 2000 - A moratorium on executions is declared by Illinois Governor
George Ryan. Since 1976, Illinois is the 1st state to block executions.
2002 - Atkins v. Virginia. The Supreme Court rules that the execution of
mentally retarded defendants violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and
January 2003 - Before leaving office, Governor George Ryan grants clemency to
all of the remaining 167 inmates on Illinois's death row, due to the flawed
process that led to the death sentences.
June 2004 - New York's death penalty law is declared unconstitutional by the
state's high court.
March 1, 2005 - Roper v. Simmons. The Supreme Court rules that the execution of
juvenile killers is unconstitutional. The 5-4 decision tosses out the death
sentence of a Missouri man who was 17 years old when he murdered a St. Louis
area woman in 1993.
December 2, 2005 - The execution of Kenneth Lee Boyd in North Carolina marks
the 1,000th time the death penalty has been carried out since it was reinstated
by the Supreme Court in 1976. Boyd, 57, is executed for the 1988 murders of his
wife, Julie Curry Boyd, and father-in-law, Thomas Dillard Curry.
June 12, 2006 - The Supreme Court rules that death row inmates can challenge
the use of lethal injection as a method of execution.
December 15, 2006 - Florida Governor Jeb Bush suspends the death penalty after
the execution of prisoner Angel Diaz. Diaz had to be given 2 injections, and it
took more than 30 minutes for him to die.
December 17, 2007 - New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signs legislation banning
the death penalty in the state. The death sentences of 8 men are commuted to
December 31, 2007 - Due to the de facto moratorium on executions, pending the
Supreme Court's ruling, only 42 people in the US are executed in 2007. It is
the lowest total in more than 10 years.
April 14, 2008 - In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court upholds Kentucky's use of
lethal injection. Between September 2007, when the Court took on the case, and
April 2008 no one was executed in the US.
March 18, 2009 - Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico signs legislation
repealing the death penalty in his state. His actions will not affect 2
prisoners currently on death row: Robert Fry, who killed a woman in 2000, and
Tim Allen, who killed a 17-year-old girl in 1994.
November 13, 2009 - Ohio becomes the 1st state to switch to a method of lethal
injection using a single drug, rather than the 3-drug method used by other
2010 - Execution by firing squad is used for the last time in Utah, with the
death of Ronnie Lee Gardner.
March 9, 2011 - Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announces that he has signed
legislation eliminating the death penalty in his state, more than 10 years
after the state halted executions.
March 16, 2011 - The Drug Enforcement Agency seizes Georgia's supply of
thiopental, over questions of where the state obtained the drug. US
manufacturer Hospira stopped producing the drug in 2009. The countries that
still produce the drug do not allow it to be exported to the US for use in
May 20, 2011 - The Georgia Department of Corrections announces that
pentobarbital will be substituted for thiopental in the three-drug lethal
July 1, 2011 - Lundbeck Inc., the company that makes pentobarbital (brand name
Nembutal), the drug used in lethal injections, announces it will restrict the
use of its product from prisons carrying out capital punishment.
July 7, 2011 - Humberto Leal Garcia Jr., a Mexican national, is executed by
lethal injection in Texas for the 1994 kidnap, rape and murder of Adra Sauceda
in San Antonio. Despite pleas from the US State Department and the White House,
Texas Governor Rick Perry does not grant clemency and the US Supreme Court does
November 22, 2011 - Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon grants a reprieve to Gary
Haugen, who was scheduled to be executed December 6. Kitzhaber, a licensed
physician, also puts a moratorium on all state executions for the remainder of
his term in office.
April 25, 2012 - Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signs S.B. 280, An Act
Revising the Penalty for Capital Felonies, into law. The law goes into effect
immediately and replaces the death penalty with life without the possibility of
parole. The law is not retroactive to those already on death row.
June 22, 2012 - The Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down the state's execution
law, calling the form of lethal injection the state uses unconstitutional.
August 7, 2012 - The Supreme Court allows the execution of Marvin Wilson, 54, a
Texas inmate with low IQ.
November 6, 2012 - A measure to repeal the death penalty in California fails.
May 2, 2013 - Maryland's governor signs a bill repealing the death penalty. The
legislation goes into effect October 1.
January 16, 2014 - Ohio executes inmate Dennis McGuire with a new combination
of drugs, due to the unavailability of drugs such as pentobarbital. The state
uses a combination of the drugs midazolam, a sedative, and the painkiller
hydromorphone, according to the state corrections department. The execution
process takes 24 minutes, and McGuire appears to be gasping for air for 10 to
13 minutes, according to witness Alan Johnson, a reporter with the Columbus
February 11, 2014 - Washington Governor Jay Inslee announces that he is issuing
a moratorium on death penalty cases during his term in office.
May 22, 2014 - Tennessee becomes the 1st state to make death by electric chair
mandatory when lethal injection drugs are unavailable.
May 28, 2014 - A judge in Ohio issues an order temporarily suspending
executions in the state so that authorities can further study new lethal
July 23, 2014 - Arizona uses a new combination of drugs for the lethal
injection to execute Joseph Woods, a convicted murderer. After the injection,
it reportedly took him nearly 2 hours to die. A state review board later rules
that future executions will be conducted with a 3-drug formula or a single drug
injection if the state can obtain pentobarbital.
September 4, 2014 - The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety issues a report
about the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. Complications
with the placement of an IV into Lockett played a significant role in problems
with his execution, according to the report. It took 43 minutes for him to die.
December 31, 2014 - Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley commutes the death
sentences of the 4 last men in the state scheduled for execution. It is 1 of
his final acts in office.
January 8, 2015 - Ohio announces that it is reincorporating thiopental sodium,
a drug which it used in executions from 1999-2011, into its execution policy.
The state is also dropping the 2-drug regimen of midazolam and hydromorphone.
January 23, 2015 - The Supreme Court agrees to hear a case concerning the
lethal injection protocol in Oklahoma. The inmates claim that the state
protocol violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
January 30, 2015 - The Ohio State Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
announces it will delay the executions of 7 death row inmates while searching
for an adequate supply of drugs that complies with its new execution protocol.
February 13, 2015 - Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf halts all executions in his
state, citing the state's "error prone" justice system and "inherent biases"
among his reasons for the moratorium. Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth
Williams later announces he has filed a petition to block Gov. Wolf halting
executions, claiming the moratorium is an unconstitutional takeover of powers.
March 23, 2015 - Utah Governor Gary Herbert signs legislation making the firing
squad an authorized method of death if the drugs required for lethal injection
May 20, 2015 - The Nebraska legislature passes a bill to repeal the state's
death penalty and replace it with life without parole.
June 29, 2015 - The Supreme Court rules, in a 5-4 decision, that the use of the
sedative midazolam in lethal injections is not a violation of the
constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Midazolam is 1 of 3 drugs
that are combined to carry out the death penalty in Oklahoma.
October 19, 2015 - Ohio delays executions until 2017, citing difficulties
obtaining the necessary drugs.
May 23, 2016 - The Supreme Court rules 7-1 in favor of black death row inmate
Timothy Foster, who contended there was racial discrimination in his 1987 jury
selection. "The focus on race in the prosecution's file plainly demonstrates a
concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury," Chief Justice
John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
August 2, 2016 - The Delaware Supreme Court rules the state's death penalty law
unconstitutional. Attorney General Matt Denn later announces that he will not
appeal the decision.
November 8, 2016 - Voters in California, Nebraska and Oklahoma are asked to
weigh in on the death penalty with referendum questions on ballots. In all 3
states, majorities vote in favor of the death penalty.
December 8, 2016 - Once a temporary stay issued by Supreme Court Justice
Clarence Thomas is lifted, Alabama executes Ronald B. Smith. According to a
witness, the death row inmate coughed and heaved for about 13 minutes after the
injection process began.
February 22, 2017 - The Supreme Court rules in favor of Duane Buck, a death row
inmate in Texas whose defense lawyers introduced evidence at trial that he was
more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black.
April 2017 - Of the 8 prisoners Arkansas had planned to execute before the
state's supply of a lethal injection drug expires, 4 are put to death: Ledell
Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams, and Kenneth Williams. The other 4 - Jason
McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Don Davis and Bruce Ward - receive stays of execution.
April 20, 2017 - The FDA rules that imported vials of the execution drug sodium
thiopental, ordered by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Arizona
Department of Corrections, must be destroyed or exported within 90 days. The
FDA had seized the shipment in 2015. Sodium thiopental is not approved in the
April 25, 2017 - The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission releases a report
recommending the continuation of the moratorium on the death penalty, citing
the need for significant reforms.
Gary Lee Sampson loses latest bid to escape death penalty
Triple-killer Gary Lee Sampson has lost his latest bid to escape his pending
Judge Leo Sorokin, who oversaw the 8-week trial that led to Sampson's sentence
early this year, issued an 85-page decision this week denying a slew of
post-trial motions making 18 different arguments for a new trial. Sorokin also
ordered the U.S. District Court clerk to make public nearly all sealed
documents in the case over the coming weeks.
In the decision, Sorokin considered defense arguments on issues ranging from
Sampson's competency to stand trial to victim-impact statements from relatives
of the 2 South Shore men he stabbed to death in an 4-day killing spree in 2001.
Sampson, who never denied the murders, was tried separately for strangling a
3rd man to death in New Hampshire.
Sorokin noted in the lengthy decision that he had given an unusual degree of
attention to Sampson's post-trial motions, which judges typically deny with a
"This is no run-of-the-mine case," Sorokin wrote. "Sampson brutally and
incomprehensibly murdered Philip McCloskey, Jonathan Rizzo, and Robert Whitney.
He faces the ultimate, irreversible punishment for 2 of those killings."
Sampson, a 57-year-old former drifter who grew up in Abington, has been behind
bars since July 2001, when he turned himself in to Vermont police and confessed
to killing the three men.
Sampson carjacked and murdered McCloskey, a 69-year-old retired plumber from
Abington, on July 24, 2001, after McCloskey stopped by the side of the road and
offered him a ride. 3 days later, Sampson carjacked Rizzo, a 19-year-old
college student who had also pulled over to help Sampson, and forced the
teenager to drive at knife point to Abington, where he killed Rizzo and stole
his car. Sampson then drove to New Hampshire and murdered Whitney after
breaking into an empty lake home.
Sampson plead guilty to all charges and was sentenced to death following a 2003
penalty-phase trial, which is required in federal death penalty cases. But the
sentence was thrown out eight years later after Judge Mark Wolf determined that
a juror in the trial had lied about her background. A new set of jurors began
hearing testimony this past November.
In deciding whether Sampson should die for the murders, the jury was tasked
with weighing 7 aggravating factors presented by prosecutors against dozens of
mitigating factors outlined by Sampson's defense. The 115 mitigating factors
raised by defense attorneys included what they said was a lifelong history of
brain injuries, dyslexia, substance abuse and family problems.
Among the arguments Sampson made for a new trial in his post-trial motions was
his contention that he should have been allowed to present all 308 mitigating
factors originally proposed by his attorneys. Sampson also argued that his
defense attorneys should have been allowed to withdraw from the case mid trial
because Sampson "made credible threats of violence" against them.
Sorokin found no merit in any of the arguments and denied several post-trial
motions. The judge also ordered the clerk to make public all but 3 documents
that had remained under seal even after Sampson's sentence was imposed.
(source: The Patriot Ledger)
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