There is national and state lethal injection news today, as well as editorials. I'll break them down into bits, starting with two major overview articles.
NPR's Satuday edition of All Things Considered broadcast, "Lacking Lethal Injection Drugs, States Find Untested Backup." There is audio at the link. It was prepared by NPR staff and program host Arun Rath.
Brendan Farrington witnessed the execution of William Happ for the Associated Press. He described the scene in the viewing room.
BRENDAN FARRINGTON: The room has four rows of chairs, about 10 chairs in each row. The last row is slightly elevated, and that's where media witnesses are. It's a very solemn, serious, quiet atmosphere. There's no talking. They bring the witnesses in, and there's a screen across a long, rectangular window. And when they're ready to begin, the screen slowly rises. The person conducting the execution will announce that the sentence is about to be carried out, tell this to the condemned and asks if he has any last words.
In this case, William Happ gave a fairly lengthy final words. He admitted he committed the crime and expressed shame for it and said that, you know, he hopes that God forgives him, and he realizes that the family probably could not.
RATH: At 6 p.m. sharp, the execution began. Since the drug midazolam was being used for the first time in an execution, Farrington was watching closely to see how it would work.
FARRINGTON: While it wasn't dramatically different than previous executions, it did seem like it took him longer to lose consciousness. Of the other three executions I've seen, the condemned, once the procedure begins, they'll go under fairly quickly. And once their eyes closed, they usually stay closed. In Happ's case, his eyes were still opening two, three, four minutes into the process. Once they closed, about 10 minutes in, his head started moving kind of just around, and there was some motion.
RATH: There is no way to know if William Happ was in pain during his last moments. But some anesthesia experts have expressed concern that midazolam and other untested sedatives could fail to work properly during an execution. If that happened, condemned prisoners could die slowly or painfully, a violation of legal guidelines for executions.
National Journal posts, "No Drugs, No Executions: The End of the Death Penalty," by Dustin Volz. There is an infographic at the link.
In a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott last month describing the changes to its lethal-injection protocol, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews wrote that "the procedure has been reviewed and is compatible with evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society, the concepts of the dignity of man, and advances in science, research, pharmacology, and technology. He added: "The process will not involve unnecessary lingering or the unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain and suffering. The foremost objective of the lethal injection process is a human and dignified death."
A department spokeswoman confirmed the switch was made because Florida's cache of pentobarbital expired. She declined to give specifics about how the updated lethal-injection process was vetted to ensure it qualifies as "a humane and dignified death."
"The department is not going to go into any detail about how or why the protocol was designed," Misty Cash, the spokeswoman, told National Journal. "Those decisions are exempt from public record because they could impact the safety and security of inmates and officers who are involved in that process."
Florida's refusal to disclose its process for selecting its new drug bolsters critics who claim it and other states are willing to risk violating generally accepted standards of decency in their pursuit of a reliable method of execution.
"Every time a state changes their method of execution, they lose credibility about a procedure that should be as humane as we can make it. Everything that states are doing now goes against that very grain," said Deborah Denno, a capital-punishment expert who opposes the death penalty. "They choose drugs because they are available, not because they know anything about those drugs."
Texas's changes to its lethal-injection protocol illustrates that reality.
Earlier coverage of the Florida execution begins at the link. You can also jump to two other recent overviews of lethal injection issues. Related posts are in the lethal injection category index.
The next posts will focus on state li issues.