2017-04-11 14:26:15 UTC
Lawsuit Seeks to Block Upcoming 7 Death Row Executions
Testimony began Monday in federal court on a lawsuit seeking to block a series
of 7 executions set to begin April 17.
Judge Kristine Baker heard from several witnesses called by lawyers for the
condemned inmates including a psychologist from North Carolina who has worked
with the state's prison system.
Dr. Jim Hilkey testified that he's witnessed 5 executions. He told the judge
that prison employees who participate in the process are profoundly impacted.
In legal filings, lawyers for the inmates have argued that the rushed schedule
creates a risk that key steps will be overlooked.
Hilkey called Arkansas' rapid execution protocol a "dangerous experiment."
Lawyers representing the Arkansas Department of Correction pointed out that
prison workers will have mandatory debriefings after executions that include a
meeting with a mental health professional.
Another witnesses was Carol Wright, a federal public defender in Ohio who has
been involved with 19 death penalty cases.
She testified about the large volume of work required of lawyers in capital
cases. Inmate lawyers say the execution plans amount to a denial of the
inmate's right to counsel because lawyers will have to divide their legal work
between multiple cases.
State lawyers countered by arguing that attorneys for the inmates have had more
than 10 years to fight their client's death sentences.
Testimony is scheduled to continue through Thursday. Lawyers for the inmates
are asking judge Baker to stop the executions and allow their challenge to
(source: KARK news)
Arkansas Executions: Damien Echols, Ex-Death Row Inmate, Will Speak for
Damien Echols has nightmares about being back in Arkansas. As a member of the
West Memphis 3, Echols spent nearly 2 decades on death row in Arkansas -
accused of the 1993 murder of 3 8-year-old boys - but was later released due to
new DNA evidence.
But he is set to return on Friday in protest of the state government's decision
to execute 7 men in 10 days because their execution drugs are expiring.
The 2 nights he will spend in Arkansas will be his longest stay and only the
2nd time he has returned since his release in 2011.
"Ever since the executions were announced, I've had tons and tons of people
contacting me to, number 1, would I help in some way? Number 2, would I be
willing to come back to Arkansas and speak out against this?" Echols told NBC
"It takes a lot for me to go back to Arkansas," he added. "It's a place that
holds nothing but horror and despair for me. This whole situation is horrific
and fills me with despair to the point that I wake up at night trying to
Furonda Brasfield, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the
Death Penalty, has organized a protest on the steps of the state capitol
building at 1:30 p.m. on Good Friday - 3 days before the state plans to execute
2 of the 7 condemned men.
Echols - who rose to national consciousness in the early '90s because of an HBO
documentary about the peculiarities that surrounded his case and caught the
attention of celebrities like Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollings, Margaret Cho and
Johnny Depp - will speak alongside faith leaders, local officials and a few
The former death row inmate's gaze has returned to the state that attempted to
kill him because he wants to shine a light on the men he lived alongside for a
harrowing 18 years. He believes the historic pace of executions Arkansas has
planned, what he calls "a conveyor belt of death," could be a tipping point in
the way the death penalty is perceived in the United States and Arkansas, a
state which broadly supports capital punishment.
A 2014 poll conducted by Opinion Research Associates found that 83 % of
Arkansans said that the perceived deterrence aspect of capital punishment was
important to them and 67 % supported the death penalty.
Echols, 42, doesn't quite understand the support, calling it willful ignorance,
because he believes his case should have proven to Arkansans that innocent men
can be put on death row. But Arkansas politicians tend to use death penalty as
a tool to build support.
Patrick Crane, the sergeant in charge of Arkansas's death row in 2007, said
correctional officers are forced to deal with the emotional and psychological
weight of death row while politicians win "tough-on-crime" points with their
"I'm a Republican - I've never voted for a Democrat in my life - but these
politicians in Little Rock are going to benefit on the backs of honorable men
with families to feed who are poor and who have to fulfill their job," he said.
Crane said he went to work on death row in support of the death penalty, but
found the environment distasteful. It was Echols's case, as well as many
inmates' clear mental illness that made him rethink his position and leave the
job he held.
"What if we killed Damien Echols?" he asked. "We now know that guy is innocent
but we could have killed an innocent man."
Echols, considered the leader of the West Memphis 3 (that includes Jason
Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley), became a symbol of the innocent man on death
row. To be released, however, Arkansas did not admit Echols' innocence - the
state has never exonerated any inmate. Instead, he was granted an Alford Plea,
a technicality which allows him to maintain his innocence while pleading
He went through a dozen lawyers over 18 years to get to that point and earned
an unheard of amount of media attention.
Echols said he nearly was killed when he first entered death row. Then
19-years-old, the correctional officers at the time decided to "welcome me to
the neighborhood." He said they kept him isolated and beat and starved him for
more than 2 weeks - long enough that Echols thought he would die there.
His fellow inmates smuggled him food and appealed to a deacon who visited death
row to get him out. Don Davis - the man the state plans to execute 1st - stood
out as a savior in that instance and went on to watch his back for 18 years,
Davis, believed to have an IQ between 69 and 77 - according to an investigation
by Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project - murdered a 62-year-old woman
while he burglarized her home in 1990. According to Echols, Davis, who has been
on death row for more than 25 years, admitted to his crime and was tormented by
"One day we were sitting down and talking about it and he started crying so
hard," Echols said, starting to cry himself. "It was like watching someone's
soul break open. He was telling me how it had tortured him every single day
that he did what he did - that he wishes that he could be as evil as the
politicians in Arkansas all said he was, so that it wouldn't bother him
Harvard's report found that 2 men slated for execution this month are severely
mentally ill - one believes that death row is a test from God "to prepare him
for a special mission as an evangelist" and the other hallucinates "bugs, ants
and spiders in particular, that he believed were going to get him. A 3rd man is
intellectually disabled and suffered significant head injuries that might have
caused brain trauma, and a 4th was first represented by a drunk lawyer and then
a mentally ill lawyer - both attorneys later lost their licenses."
"A lot of those guys are mentally ill and there's no need to execute them,"
Crane said about the inmates. "We got them locked up and they're not going
Crane does not believe the death penalty is necessary, and that it dehumanizes
everyone involved, one of the reasons he now works as a postal worker in his
home state of Kansas.
"You can't be a person of character and know what I know and still be for the
death penalty," Crane said.
"I'm a Catholic and while I'm not particularly good at being religious," he
added, "I know I'm going to have to account for myself, for what I did and what
Echols agrees, and that's why he feels obligated to return to Arkansas - a
place that, to him, feels as though it is full of enemies and terror. While it
is not fun to relive his time in prison, or the thoughts he had while waiting
for his execution to be scheduled, he wants people to consider his story and
imagine what might have happened if no one had paid attention to his case.
"The thing I always try to keep in mind," he said, "is every single person,
every single person that hears my story is a potential jury member on someone
else's case in the future and can make sure the same thing doesn't happen to
(source: NBC News)
Cruel and Ununsual The Question Before Federal Court In 2nd Execution Hearing
The effects of the sedative midazolam, along with Arkansas's execution
practices generally, were the subject of a federal hearing that began in Little
Rock Monday that could halt 7 planned executions of death row inmates starting
State Solicitor General Lee Rudofsky told U.S. District Judge Karen Baker that
the inmates' case has no basis in law, and that their complaints under the
Eighth Amendment have already been dismissed by previous U.S. Supreme Court and
8th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings.
He deflected arguments by the inmates' attorneys that an expedited schedule of
double executions over ten days would minimize the inmates' access to effective
counsel and increase the risk of error at the Arkansas Department of
"A risk of maladministration or accident is not cognizable under the 8th
Amendment, but more importantly, their allegation is entirely speculative."
Rudofsky said the inmates must prove, "intolerable risk of needless suffering
and severe pain," and reiterated the state???s request that the case be given
summary judgment and dismissed.
The case against the state argues the use of the 3-drug protocol, particularly
the sedative midazolam, commonly called Versed, amounts to a cruel and unusual
punishment. They also say the state's rush to execute 7 men in 10 days
increases the chances of a botched execution.
An attorney for the inmates, Julie Vandiver, questioned Emory University
anesthesiologist Joel B. Zivot about the drug mixture and the experience it
would cause during an execution.
He testified that the other 2 drugs used in the mixture, vecuronium bromide and
potassium chloride are very painful and will have the effect of causing death
by suffocation, which he said would be "very terrifying."
He said midazolam does not prevent pain in the moment but is used in rare
instances to block a patient's memory of a procedure.
Zivot said a normal dose would be 1-2 mg, or as much as 10mg, whereas Arkansas
plans to use a 500 mg dose. Contrary to intuition, though, Zivot says the drug
is ineffective at such a high dosage. It could create more agitation, not less.
"Drugs like midazolam when given can do two things. They can cause sedation or
they can cause excitation. They can make someone agitated."
Vandiver asked him about other concerns about the procedure, and Zivot
mentioned the likely lack of qualification of corrections department staff
inserting IV's in death row inmates. (The department has refused multiple
requests by media and others to learn staffing qualifications, their roles and
It's a difficult process even with a consensual patient, Zivot said.
Additionally, the drugs are handled and prepared off-site.
"They're put into some kind of box and then they're driven or transported to
the execution chamber."
"When I'm going to compound a drug" - prepare it to be administered, in other
words - "I'll compound it. I'll use it myself, right away. I don't take it in
another room and let it sit for a while and move it in a car."
Zivot referred to evidence entered into the case of several men put to death in
Florida, which uses the same drug mixture. Several of their autopsies revealed
lungs heavy with fluids, indicating they died a slow death.
Zivot said he had previously testified in a Missouri death penalty lawsuit and
had witnessed an execution himself, which he called a "stirring experience,"
that gave him insight into the use of the drugs for putting inmates to death.
Zivot, who testified by video, will return in-person Thursday to complete his
Inmates for the attorneys also questioned former North Carolina Corrections
Commissioner Jennie Lancaster about that state's execution preparation process.
Judge Baker told the courtroom there would be 12-hour hearings in the case
Rudofsky requested that she rule from the bench by Friday, April 14, so that
the case could be resolved by the first day of executions, April 17.
Upcoming witnesses expected to take the stand for the plaintiffs include
pharmacologist Craig Stevens and Yale legal ethicist Larry Fox, along with
attorneys who've defended inmates whose executions were botched.
The state is expected to call ADC Director Wendy Kelley, former ADC Director
Larry Norris, Dr. Daniel Buffington, Pharmacist, and Dr. Joseph Antognini, an
A preliminary injunction for inmate Jason McGehee was granted in a separate
federal lawsuit last week that challenged the execution clemency hearings under
due process. In the state's final ruling on clemency, the Arkansas Parole Board
denied Jack Jones a recommendation Monday.
Time Running Out to Halt Arkansas's "Execution Assembly Line"----Governor's
plan could lead to "torturing prisoners to death"
Time is running out for lawyers to stop the state of Arkansas from carrying out
its plan for an "execution assembly line" - killing 7 men within an 11-day
The 1st executions for 2 of the men, Don Davis and Bruce Ward, are set for the
same day, April 17.
The Guardian's Ed Pilkington writes:
On Monday, lawyers for the seven will present a collective case to a federal
judge in the eastern district of Arkansas in which they will call for a
permanent block on the planned killings which they denounce as "execution by
assembly line." In a bold expression of disgust directed at the Republican
governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, they state: "Our country does not
participate in mass executions."
The plan has been met with outrage by civil liberties and human rights groups.
"Arkansas's plan to execute 8 men over eleven days obscenely exalts speed over
justice," said Christina Swarns, NAACP's Legal Defense Fund's director of
The short time frame for the state-sanctioned killings, said Hutchinson, is
because of the end-of-the-month expiration date on the state's supply of
midazolam, 1 of the 3 drugs that will be used in the lethal injection cocktail.
The Intercept's Liliana Segura wrote in a lengthy piece outlining the
Attorneys for the condemned have raised particular alarm over the planned use
of midazolam, which replaces a longtime anesthetic - sodium thiopental - that
became unavailable years ago. Midazolam has a short but grisly track record; a
complaint filed in federal court last month points to several executions where
the sedative appeared to fail, most recently in Alabama, during the execution
of Robert Bert Smith, who heaved and coughed as he died.
According to Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Capital
Punishment Project, "By racing to use a drug known to play a part in botched
executions, the governor risks debasing the state of Arkansas, its citizens,
and the very American traditions of justice by torturing prisoners to death."
He adds that "when midazolam is combined with the two other drugs used during
the execution - vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride - it produces
unspeakable pain before death."
The problematic issues go on.
Best-selling author and former lawyer John Grisham writes in a USA Today op-ed
that the men "have court-appointed lawyers," and some "share the same lawyer.
It is literally impossible for the lawyers to provide comprehensive
representation in the hour when their clients need them the most."
There's also the issue of the state not following a needed safeguard - the
clemency process. Grisham writes:
Arkansas is preparing to arbitrarily violate its own policies and laws
regarding clemency in order to accommodate this frantic execution schedule.
Clemency hearings are required to be held 30 days prior to the execution, with
each prisoner allotted a 2-hour audience with the board. Some of the [seven]
were not able to file their petitions in time. Those who did will be given only
one hour. The board will not have the full 30 days for careful deliberation of
each case. Amnesty International, Equal Justice USA, and the ACLU are
circulation a petition calling on the governor to stop the "unusual killing
spree" because "it violates basic decency and is not justice."
The Associated Press writes: "Judge Kristine Baker, who was appointed to U.S.
District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas by President Barack Obama,
will consider the legality of Arkansas' aggressive plan this week."
Justice or mercy? How about both?
"These are halls of justice - not mercy," the prosecutor bellowed before the
jury as I wiggled uncomfortably in the back of the courtroom, notebook in hand.
I was fresh out of college and covering courts in Texas when I first wrestled
with the notion of justice vs. mercy.
Justice is when society gives someone a punishment it thinks a defendant
deserves. Mercy, on the other hand, is when it extends a hand of compassion.
We are all for compassion when it is we who are standing before the judgment
seat. But we aren't so much for it when it is someone who has wronged us.
I just finished reading "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson. He''s a
Harvard-educated lawyer who has devoted his life to representing those
sentenced to death.
He famously was able to prove one of his clients was factually innocent and
have the conviction thrown out.
Sometimes our society makes mistakes.
And the death penalty is something that makes me uneasy.
It has since I met a man named Gary Gauger. He was wrongly convicted of
murdering his parents in rural McHenry County. He served 2 years on Illinois'
death row before his conviction was thrown out.
I met Gauger back in 1990 when he dropped by my office, which was then in the
Illinois statehouse. He told his tale of wrongful conviction and left me
I'm libertarian in my philosophy, which means I support limited government. And
let's face it, there is no greater intrusion of government than when it chooses
to kill one of its citizens.
And after 30 years of covering government, I've come to the conclusion that it
does very little very well.
Even when it comes to the death penalty, in recent decades Illinois managed to
sentence 13 men to die who were factually innocent.
For this reason, I'm glad Illinois no longer has capital punishment.
While Gov. Pat Quinn signed the legislation outlawing the death penalty, it is
really Gov. George Ryan who deserves the credit. During his 4 years in office,
he moved from being a supporter of the death penalty to being the nation's most
vocal opponent of capital punishment. He is the man who emptied Illinois' death
I used to say, "I support the death penalty because some people don't deserve
And, no, I haven't become naive. I know there are still bad people among us who
should be banished to be forever away from society.
But what does society gain by killing? Retribution?
Well, perhaps it's time to temper our justice with a bit of mercy.
(source: Opinion; Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist----The Alton
CALIFORNIA----new female death sentence
Former Northern California tribal chair gets death penalty for gun, knife
attack on fellow members
The former head of a Northern California Indian tribe was sentenced to death
Monday for a 2014 rampage inside the tribal hall that left 4 people dead.
Cherie Louise Rhoades will be taken to San Quentin to await execution.
Judge Candace Beason called the killings at the Cedarville Rancheria Tribal
Headquarters "intentional, premeditated and willful," rejecting the option to
modify a Placer County jury???s death sentence to life in prison.
Dressed in a grey-striped prison jumpsuit and plastic orange shoes, Rhoades,
47, shook her head as she listened to the judge read the sentence during a
3-hour hearing in Modoc County Superior Court.
Rhoades was a former chairwoman of the 35-member Cedarville Rancheria Tribe of
Northern Paiute. She launched her attack on her fellow tribal members,
including 3 close relatives, during a Feb. 20, 2014 hearing at which the tribal
council was expected to decide whether Rhoades and her son should be evicted
from tribal housing. She had been suspended as chairwoman pending a federal
investigation into allegations that she embezzled at least $50,000 from the
After asking that all the windows be closed at the tribal hearing, she pulled
out a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and began shooting in a rampage that
continued several minutes.
Pronounced dead at the scene were Rhoades' brother, Rurik Davis, 50, her niece;
Angel Penn, 19, her nephew, Glenn Calonicco, 30, and Shelia Lynn Russo, 47, a
tribal administrator who managed evictions.
After she emptied at least 1 firearm, Rhoades grabbed a butcher knife and began
stabbing people. Sisters Melissa Davis and Monica Davis were both injured.
Now chairwoman of the tribe with 9 adult voting members, Melissa Davis appeared
at the hearing. Her mother, Diane Henley, was among the victims who addressed
Rhoades directly: "You tried to wipe out my daughters. They survived. They are
stronger than ever. Nothing is going to stop them from moving on, and you will
not be a part of it," Henley said.
Phillip Russo, Shelia Russo's husband, told Rhoades "Shelia lives forever...
and you will be forgotten and die alone."
Before delivering her sentence, Beason denied a defense motion for a new trial.
Defense Attorney Antonio Alvarez argued that the testimony of then-Alturas
Police Chief Ken Barnes was "false," weakening his case that Rhoades did not
plan the murders.
District Attorney Jordan Funk called the motion "a tempest in a teapot."
Beason also tentatively authorized $64,874 be paid in restitution to the
victims pending further discussions with the attorneys.
(source: Sacramento Bee)
Alturas mass shooter sentenced to death
Cherie Lash-Rhoades, the woman convicted of killing 4 people in a mass shooting
in Alturas in 2014, was sentenced to death Monday morning by a Modoc County
The judge sentenced Lash-Rhoades to death for the 4 people she murdered and 150
years to life for the attempted murder cases and special allegations.
Lash-Rhoades will not be eligible for custody credits. The judge also ordered
that Lash-Rhoades pay $64,000 in restitution.
Lash-Rhoades was found guilty in December of 2016 on 4 counts of 1st-degree
murder and 2 counts of attempted murder. The jury recommended the death
penalty. According to Modoc County District Attorney Jordan Funk, this is the
1st death penalty case he knows of in Modoc County.
Lash-Rhoades shot 6 people at the Cedarville Rancheria Tribal Office in
Alturas, ultimately killing 4 on February 20, 2014. Officials said at least 1
of the injured was also attacked with a butcher knife after Lash-Rhoades ran
out of ammunition.
Officials added a witness was able to escape the office and run, covered in
blood, to the Alturas Police Station where they sounded the alarm.
Police said when they arrived, Lash-Rhoades was outside the building, running
with a knife in her hands, but was quickly subdued.
The 4 victims were identified as Rurik Davis, 50, Lash-Rhoades' brother and
tribal chairman; Angel Penn, 19, Lash-Rhoades' niece; Glenn Calonico, 30,
Lash-Rhoades' nephew; and Sheila Russo, 47.
(source: KRCR TV news)
Report: The U.S. is the World's 7th Largest Executioner----About 90 % of
executions take place in just 4 countries.
The United States was among the world's 10 largest executioners in 2016, coming
in at No. 7, according to a new report.
The U.S. dropped out of the top 5 global executioners for the 1st time in a
decade. The country executed 20 people in 2016, the lowest number since 1991.
In its annual death penalty report, "Death Sentences and Executions 2016,"
rights group Amnesty International found at least 1,032 people were executed in
23 countries in 2016, not including figures from China. The total figure
represents a 37 % decease from 2015, when the group recorded 1,634 executions
in 25 countries. Execution methods worldwide in 2016 involved beheading,
shooting, lethal injection and hanging.
China was once again the world's top executioner, according to the group. While
the country doesn't publish any figures on the death penalty, "available
information indicates that thousands of people are executed and sentenced to
death in China every year," the report says. James Clark, senior death penalty
campaigner for Amnesty International USA, says the group uses multiple sources,
including news reports and accounts from family members, to produce its
In descending order, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan followed China to
complete the top 5 countries that recorded the greatest number of executions.
If China is excluded, those 4 nations comprised about 90 % of all executions
worldwide, the report said.
Iran alone accounted for 55 % of all executions, though executions in the
country dropped by 42 % from the previous year. Countries that rounded out the
top 10 executioners included Egypt (No. 6), the U.S. (No. 7), Somalia (No. 8),
Bangladesh (No. 9) and Afghanistan (No. 10). Egypt and Bangladesh doubled the
number of executions in 2016 and Iraq more than tripled its number of capital
While the number of executions in the U.S. fell in 2016, the country was still
the only nation to execute anyone in all of the Americas.
The number of countries carrying out executions has decreased in recent
decades. While 23 countries executed people in 2016, in 1997, 40 countries did
so, according to the report. In total, 104 countries have abolished the death
penalty in law for all crimes. In 1997, only 64 countries were fully
"Countries all over the world are seeing that the death penalty doesn't work,"
Clark says. "It doesn't provide the safety or deterrent factors people claim
that it does. It's a clear violation of human rights to execute anyone and that
is being recognized more and more around the world."
(source: US News & World Report)
The death penalty in the US is like a dying dinosaur----It may be doomed to be
extinct but it is still deadly - with 8 executions planned over 10 days in
Over a 10-day period, starting next Monday, the state of Arkansas plans to
oversee the most concentrated spate of executions the US has seen in more than
half a century, seeking to kill 8 prisoners in 10 days, 2 at a time. This
medieval event is a good illustration of the state of the death penalty in the
United States: It is like a dying dinosaur, doomed to be extinct, but still
A dwindling number of politicians - either deceptively populist or determinedly
delusional - continue to pretend that executing a few people each year will
somehow right the wrongs that permeate US society. Yet people increasingly
understand that they are peddling a lie.
There is no link between American executions and American crime: 31 states keep
the death penalty on their books, but their crime rate tends to be higher than
in the 19 states that have abolished the noose. Crime has far more to do with
the 300 million guns that swamp America, the boatloads of cocaine, and the 43.1
million Americans in poverty, than the execution of a handful of those we are
told to hate.
The US managed to execute 20 people last year, and "only" imposed 32 new
sentences - down from a high of 315 in 1996. Remarkably, none of those were
imposed in the 3 states where I tried most of my cases (Georgia, Louisiana and
Mississippi). At this rate, with some 2,832 condemned people, it would take 142
years to clear death row.
Meanwhile, we have exonerated 157 people who the system said were guilty
"beyond a reasonable doubt" but who turned out to be entirely innocent.
From its heyday in the 1980s, when it was almost impossible to win public
office without being a staunch proponent of executions, the death penalty has
become a marginal issue.
The politicians who support it are, indeed, the dinosaurs of the age. But
Arkansas's plan for next week proves that even in its death throes a thrashing
Tyrannosaurus Rex can inflict enormous damage.
Over the past 41 years Arkansas has executed 27 people, an average of 1 every
18 months. But in the past 10 years, despite successive governors' best
efforts, no executions have taken place.
Now, Governor Asa Hutchinson has scheduled 8 in 10 days. He set the dates only
49 days before the first execution. Since a clemency petition must be lodged 40
days before an execution, this required the prisoners to secure counsel,
investigate for witnesses, compile and file a petition in 9 days.
The pardons board, in turn, had a maximum of 10 days to review the petition,
investigate the case, hold a hearing, and reach a decision in order to meet the
expedited schedule. Clemency petitions sometimes run to hundreds of pages, with
a broad range of witnesses. Naturally, none of these deadlines could be met in
any meaningful fashion.
Even if the system operated as written, it is still bizarrely circular, filled
with conflicts of interest. Hutchinson appoints the pardons board; he then sets
the date, deciding someone merits death; he is then the one to whom the
prisoner must appeal for clemency.
Neither was there any rationality to how the dates came about. Hutchinson had
agreed to hold a meeting at 3:30pm on February 27 to hear why he should not set
the dates. The discussion would have focused on the gruesome recent
experimentation with the very drugs to be used in these executions, the most
salient of which involved the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma
in April 2014.
Witnesses described him "breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching
his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow" before ultimately
dying of a heart attack.
'My body is on fire'
In January 2015, Charles Warner's execution (the 2nd using the Oklahoma system)
likewise went terribly wrong, with Warner crying: "My body is on fire". An
inquest convened to investigate these mistakes identified a wide range of what
it characterised as "careless" and even "reckless" conduct around the states'
use of lethal injection, and recommended moving to a new method of execution.
It was even revealed that the 3rd drug used in the execution was actually the
wrong medicine entirely - one which had never before been used in an execution.
Now Arkansas wants to use something very similar to the Oklahoma protocol.
It might seem strange that the state is so incapable of executing someone
humanely, but there are various reasons for it. First, a doctor's Hippocratic
Oath forbids him from doing harm, so what is essentially a quasi-medical
procedure must be carried out by people who are ill-qualified.
Second, the 3-drug protocol used to execute a human being is not the kinder,
gentler system we were all promised. The 1st drug, a sedative, is meant to put
the prisoner to sleep. As often as not, the drug fails, perhaps due to the
ill-trained people who are preparing and administering the drugs, but in some
cases because - even after poking the prisoner for as long as 40 minutes - they
fail to insert the needle properly.
The 2nd drug is nothing more than a paralytic agent - its role is purely for
the benefit of the witnesses, to prevent them from seeing the pain that the
prisoner suffers. In this way, it is like the dreadful leather flap I watched
them drape over 2 of my clients' faces when they used the electric chair,
plunging the victim into darkness, solely to shield the witnesses from watching
as his face contorted in agony. Yet if the delay is too long between the drugs,
the paralytic agent prevents the lungs from working, and the prisoner slowly
The 3rd drug (potassium chloride) is essentially used as a poison to stop the
heart. But the drug burns through the prisoner's veins, and if the sedative has
not worked he will writhe in agony, and if the paralytic agent fails the
witnesses will see it.
Perhaps Hutchinson should have followed the example set by Oklahoma officials,
who refused to set execution dates until a new system had been approved. But
no: Hutchinson suddenly set the eight execution dates a matter of minutes
before the scheduled meeting, rather than listen to the evidence.
So why the unseemly haste to kill people? Here is where we discover how the
system of capital punishment has become ever more irrational: Arkansas was
running out of the drugs it needed to kill people. Someone informed the
governor that unless the men were executed by April 30, 2017, the drugs would
expire and they would have trouble getting more. So, without more ado, he set
It is true that the executing states are facing problems securing drugs, but
there is good reason for this as well: the companies who make the drugs don't
want their products used to kill people. And why should pharmaceutical
companies, who wish to create life-saving medications, be forced to sell their
drugs for executions, any more than doctors should be made to violate their
The idea is obscene, a frontal assault on the freedom from government tyranny
that is the hallmark of the US Constitution. The pharmaceutical companies have
all created contracts with their distributors to prevent this, and yet
Arkansas, along with a gaggle of state governments, think they can create
secrecy laws to override the companies' clearly expressed agreements.
Arkansas Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merrick, for example, told the
judge that "there is a contract with the manufacturer ... whereby the supplier
is contractually not supposed to be selling drugs to state departments of
correction for use at execution. The supplier did anyway to aid the state in
carrying out and fulfilling its legal duty to carry out lawfully imposed death
sentences." In plain English, what she meant was that the Arkansas authorities,
charged with enforcing the law, had got together with an execution-friendly
salesman and convinced him to violate the law and breach his contract. So much
for the law.
The Arkansas government has shown contempt for the very rule of law that the
death penalty is meant to promote.
Presumably, as Tyrannosaurus Rex stumbled through the undergrowth, he trampled
on the smaller animals in much the same way. Perhaps an asteroid hit the Earth,
perhaps he was simply no longer suited to the planet - but soon the T Rex died
out. There can be little doubt that the Arkansas death penalty will go the same
way. Certainly, the history books are unlikely to portray this sorry chapter as
indicative of an evolving civilisation.
Unfortunately, the question remains: In the meantime, how many people will be
trampled under the Death Row Dinosaur's heavy foot?
(source: Editorial; Clive Stafford Smith is a British attorney who oversees
Reprieve's casework programme, as well as the direct representation of
prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and on death row as a Louisiana licensed attorney
at law; After graduating from Columbia Law School, Clive spent nine years as a
lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights working on death penalty cases
and other civil rights issues. In 1993, Clive moved to New Orleans and launched
the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, a non-profit law office specialising in
the representation of poor people in death penalty cases. In total, Clive has
represented more than 300 prisoners facing the death penalty in the southern
United States. While he only took on the cases of those who could not afford a
lawyer, he prevented the death penalty in all but 6 cases (a 98 % "victory"
rate). Few lawyers ever take a case to the US Supreme Court - Clive has taken
5, and all of the prisoners prevailed----Al-Jazeera news)
Here's why it takes so long to execute a death row inmate
7 inmates on death row are scheduled to be executed starting on April 17 and
ending after a 10-day period. Some of them have spent over a decade in prison,
prompting many viewers to ask why it can take so long to enforce the capital
The death penalty is the ultimate punishment for some of the most heinous and
brutal crimes. In the state of Arkansas, a total of 504 prisoners have been put
to death since 1820. Many of those people waited on death row for years before
their executions. Some even waited decades, much like those set for executions
over 10 days in April.
"There are steps that the government has to take in order to ensure that they
are executing the worst of the worst and they are not executing innocent
people," said Doctor Robert Lytle, an assistant professor in UA Little Rock's
Department of Criminal Justice.
Lytle said many factors come into play from the time a person is sentenced to
death until their day of execution. Often times, the state of Arkansas can have
trouble acquiring the drugs necessary for the 3-drug cocktail that is used for
lethal injections in the state.
"A lot of these pharmaceutical companies are not really in favor of selling
their drugs for the purpose of execution," Lytle said.
For 12 years, nationwide drug shortages and challenges in court over lethal
injection procedures have halted executions in the Natural State. Don Davis, 1
of the 7 inmates, has come close to being executed multiple times since being
sentenced to death in 1990.
Criminal defense attorney, Degen Clow, said that over those 2 decades, issues
would arise involving the drug cocktails used to execute prisoners.
Then in 2014, the sedative Midazolam was implicated after executions in
Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma went longer than expected. In June 2015, the United
State Supreme Court ruled that the drug was okay to use as a execution drug.
But on April 6, a federal appeals court blocked Ohio's execution protocol,
claiming the drugs used were "unconstitutional."
Clow said that delays in the process are nothing new, but he said the most
significant slow down is the appeals process. That process includes nine total
steps, the first being a direct appeal which is given to everyone sentenced to
"That prisoner is going to appeal to the Supreme Court of Arkansas for any type
of relief that may have happened from a factual basis from the trial," Clow
From there, post-conviction proceedings can take place with the 2nd stage of
the appellate process. That's when defendants can raise issues such as juror
misconduct, newly discovered evidence, or ineffective assistance of counsel.
During Ledell Lee's post-conviction hearings, the Arkansas Supreme Court found
that his 1st attorney had been impaired during the process. The court noted he
often had a "belligerent attitude towards the prosecuting attorney" and was at
one point unable to locate the witness room.
"One appeal may have 2 or 3 issues and 1 appeal may have 10 or 12 issues," Clow
said. "The more issues that have to be looked at, the longer time it's going to
take for that appeal to be pushed through the system."
Another inmate, Kenneth Williams, that's long been on death row, has been
fighting to stop his execution since 2000.
"He has since made numerous appeals including the ineffective assistance of
council appeals and habeas corpus, all of which have been exhausted at this
point in time," said Clow.
According to the Bureau of Justice and Death Penalty Information Center, the
average time from sentencing to execution for was just around 16 years. If no
appeals are raised, that process can happen as soon as 6 months, but that
rarely happens. The wait to be executed puts stress not only on the inmates,
but leaves grieving families in agony during the entire process.
"It puts them through a lot, but we also have the situation where we have to
look out for these individual rights because we have had people exonerated off
death row that have been found innocent of that crime years later," Clow said.
In 2014, a study was released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences found that 1 in 25 inmates, or 4.1 %, sentenced to death in America
could be innocent.
While many may question the lengthy process, experts like Lytle don't expect
any changes in the near future.
"It's very difficult to get away from having those delays because they're in
place usually for a reason according to the Supreme Court," the doctor said.
The latest capital punishment statistics published by the Bureau of Justice
Statistics shows that in 2013, of the 2,979 people on death row, 39 were
executed. 31 other inmates died of suicide, murder by another inmate, or
3,000 Vermonters to Be Summoned for Death Penalty Retrial----A federal judge is
ordering that the names of 3,000 people from across Vermont be chosen as the
1st step in selecting the jury that will hear the death penalty trial of a man
charged with killed a Rutland supermarket worker in 2000.
A federal judge is ordering that the names of 3,000 people from across Vermont
be chosen as the 1st step in selecting the jury that will hear the death
penalty trial of a man charged with killed a Rutland supermarket worker in
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford ordered that the names
of the potential jurors in the trial of Donald Fell be chosen from voter
checklists and motor vehicle registration lists.
Fell's 2nd trial for the kidnapping and killing of Terry King, who was abducted
when she arrived for work and later killed, is scheduled to start Aug. 21.
The trial was postponed from February.
Fell was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005, but the verdict and sentence
were overturned due to juror misconduct.
(source: Associated Press)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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