Andrew Cohen writes, "America Is Terrible at Killing People Legally," for Politico Magazine.
Herbert Smulls, a convicted murderer, was put to death by Missouri officials while his final appeal was still being considered by the United States Supreme Court. The process by which lethal drugs were pushed into the condemned man’s veins began at 10:11 p.m. Missouri officials told me last Friday that they proceeded with the execution, despite the pendency of an appeal, because there were no stays in place at the time and because the justices in Washington had repeatedly rejected Smulls’ requests for a stay in the hours leading to his death. Smulls was pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m. In figuring that the Supreme Court would again decline to stop the execution, Missouri guessed correctly this time. The Court denied Smulls’s final stay request at 10:24 p.m. He was dead four minutes before his legal rights were exhausted. Death penalty experts, people who have spent decades working on capital cases, were mortified. It’s just not supposed to happen that way.
This is just the latest episode suggesting a level of chaos, a form of lawlessness even, in the administration of the death penalty in America. Other examples abound and include the continued execution of the “mentally retarded,” (an outdated term the Court continues to use) which was supposed to be outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2002 but which is occurring anyway. Another example lies in the Court’s lax standards, and negligible oversight, in evaluating capital cases involving prosecutorial misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel. In Texas, even the correctional officers’ union is calling for improved conditions for death row inmates while lawmakers in states like Virginia and Missouri (and others) are considering the return of firing squads and electric chairs. Through inaction or indifference, the justices have signaled to state officials that they can push envelopes in capital cases they would not have pushed five or 10 years ago.
The most litigious current example of this phenomenon surrounds the use of secretive new approaches by state officials in Missouri, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere to hide critical information about the drugs they want to use to execute inmates. This lack of transparency raises profound constitutional questions and yet so far the justices have been unwilling or unable to provide answers. Thus we have entered a newly unsettled era of death penalty law—unsettled even by the contentious standards of modern death penalty jurisprudence—that requires judicial oversight. The Supreme Court must act now to bring order to this growing chaos.
Democracy Now posts, "Execution Chaos: Witnesses Say Executions Are Botched As States Use Untested, Secret Drug Cocktails," with Amy Goodman. There is video at the link.
As drug companies refuse to let their products be used for the death penalty, states are using untested drug combinations that have resulted in deaths like that of Dennis McGuire in Ohio, where the state used untested two-drug method despite warnings it might cause immense suffering. We speak with the reporter who witnessed the execution, and with a lawyer for a man executed in Missouri with an entirely different lethal drug cocktail, made by a pharmacy the state refused to name.
We speak with Alan Johnson, reporter with the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, who witnessed McGuire’s execution and says he observed him gasping for air, and that he appeared to be choking. We are also joined by Cheryl Pilate, one of the lead attorneys for Herbert Smulls, who was executed Jan. 29 with a lethal dose of pentobarbital that was made by a compounding pharmacy the state refuses to name. Also joining is is Megan McCracken, attorney with the University of California, Berkeley School of Law’s Death Penalty Clinic, where she is an expert on lethal injection methods.
"New complications in executions bring new death penalty discussions," is by Patricia Zapor of Catholic News Service. It's via the Boston Pilot.
International law, the risk of using inhumane methods of execution and opposition to capital punishment by the survivors of murder victims are among issues that are bringing fresh energy to debate about the death penalty.
In mid-January, Father Lawrence Hummer, of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Chillicothe, Ohio, witnessed the execution of Dennis McGuire for the 1989 rape and murder of 22-year-old Joy Stewart, who was 30 weeks pregnant.
A week later, publications around the world were printing the priest's account of watching what he called an inhumane procedure in which the convicted murderer struggled for 26 minutes while a previously untested mixture of drugs was used to execute McGuire.
At about the same time, the execution of a Mexican citizen drew international attention and warnings from the U.S. State Department that the refusal of the State of Texas to review the man's conviction in light of an international court ruling might put U.S. citizens at risk while traveling abroad.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, the parents of a prison guard who was beaten to death by an inmate in 2002 are battling the county prosecutor for the right to be heard at the retrial of the man who previously confessed to killing their son.
"States that actually murder by the death penalty," syndicated columnist and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff's latest. It's via the Columbia Daily Herald.
While some states have ended the death penalty, it still persists in others, and capital punishment remains a federal death sentence.
Indeed, a shocking (and, to me, sickening) lead editorial in The New York Times last week revealed the means that certain states use to continue creating death penalty corpses. These states viciously violate not only the Constitution, but also the most basic American rules of law and our most profound national values.
How many of us know what those are?
Deserving at the very least a Pulitzer, this editorial explained how certain remaining death penalty states “hide the means by which they kill people”
Earlier coverage of Herbert Smulls' execution, Andrew Cohen's earlier writing on Missouri's rush to execute, Ohio's botched execution of Dennis McGuire, Texas execution of Edgar Tamayo Arias, and Bob Autobee's demonstration in Colorado, at the links.
Related posts are in the lethal injection index.