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Capital Punishment

All articles with the "Capital Punishment" tag.

Published: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 12:19:40 -0400


In Oklahoma, Inmates Could Be Gassed to Death by a Substance Unfit to Kill Pets

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 15:20:00 -0400

Nitrogen gas has never been used for state-sanctioned executions anywhere in the U.S., but that hasn't stopped Oklahoma officials from embracing it. As the state struggled to find a solution to the nationwide shortage of phenobarbital, the poison used in lethal injections, officials came to see nitrogen gas an answer to this problem. Nitrogen is cheap and widely available, though few studies have been done to verify its effects. In 2015, the state passed a law which made nitrogen hypoxia the state's primary execution method, should lethal injection be ruled unconstitutional or should the state run out of the necessary supplies. Last week, Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh announced that Oklahoma will begin using nitrogen gas on its inmates once a formal execution procedure is finalized. While six states allow the use of gas as a secondary means of execution, Oklahoma is the first to make it the primary method. "We can no longer sit on the sidelines and wait on the drugs," Hunter tells KOCO. Nitrogen "will be effective, simple to administer, easy to obtain, and requires no complex medical procedures." Oklahoma has had a number of high-profile botched executions in the last decades. In 2014, prisoner Clayton Lockett was injected with an untested cocktail of drugs after authorities were unable to locate his veins for 51 minutes. Lockett struggled to die for nearly an hour before his execution was complete. When the state executed Charles Warner in 2015, only after his death did the authorities announce that they had used the wrong combination drugs. (Warner's last words were "my body is on fire.") Shortly afterward, the state halted another execution because it also had the incorrect combination of drugs. Michael Copeland, a criminal justice professor at East Central University whose research led to Oklahoma's 2015 bill, suggests the nitrogen offers a more peaceful alternative to the traditional injection. "While lethal injections used to be an effective and humane way to execute someone, it's really not anymore," Copeland told Time in 2015. "The facts on the ground have changed. Now it's like an experiment every time. Here's some drugs and maybe we'll have a paramedic administer it and let's see what happens. Maybe this will kill 'em. It's kind of haphazard, and I think it's only going to get worse." Supporters of the nitrogen method believe it's painless. As the subject breathes the gas, he dies of oxygen deprivation in a matter of minutes as nitrogen displaces the oxygen in his bloodstream. Unlike carbon monoxide* poisoning, in which the toxic build up of gas causes subjects to feel like they are suffocating, the subject would be unconscious before dying of oxygen deprivation. This process is called "nitrogen hypoxia." Supporters who argue hypoxia is painless mostly cite accidental deaths as proof of their claim, pointing to passed out pilots, scuba divers, and others who have experienced levels of oxygen deprivation as evidence of its safety. When Copeland presented his case for nitrogen gas to the Oklahoma House Judiciary committee, his presentation included YouTube videos of people passing out from inhaling too much helium—an inert gas that may behave like nitrogen in the bloodstream. But the American Veterinary Medical Association suggests nitrogen should not be used on animals other than birds, stating that it has "distressing" effects on mammals. Nitrogen hypoxia has caused "seizure like behavior" in rats, mice, and mink; they breath rapidly before dying, suggesting stress. Similarly, the World Society for the Protection of Animals states that nitrogen should not be used on animals if other alternatives are available; it argues that death may occur before loss of consciousness even when high concentrations of nitrogen are administered. "This method has never been used before and is experimental," Dale Baich, a federal public defender who is challenging the state's lethal injection protocol, tells KOCO. "How can we trust Oklahoma to get this right when the state's recent histor[...]

Grand Jury Report Paints Horrifying Picture of Death Penalty Problems in Oklahoma

Fri, 20 May 2016 16:22:00 -0400

In April 2014, the state of Oklahoma set out to execute inmate Clayton Lockett using a drug cocktail that had not previously been tried in the U.S. Rather than passing away quietly within about 10 minutes, as usually occurs with lethal injections, something went horribly, infamously wrong: He writhed and strained and groaned, speaking aloud, and at one point—after he was supposed to have been knocked out—trying to sit up. Officials attempted to halt the procedure, supposedly even discussing among themselves the possibility of rushing Lockett to a hospital. More than 40 minutes after the drugs were administered, he suffered a heart attack and died. It was not the Sooner State's finest hour. After such a public failure on the part of the corrections department, there should have been every incentive to take whatever precautions were necessary to be sure nothing of the sort would ever happen again. Indeed, the state waited nine months before carrying out another execution. By then, Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General John Hadden said, all involved were "confident that they have addressed every one of [the mistakes] and is ready to move forward." That execution, in January 2015, was botched as well. An autopsy of the inmate, Charles Warner, released last October showed that the wrong substance was used. Per The Guardian: The report revealed that officials injected Warner with potassium acetate, when state protocol calls for an injection of potassium chloride, which stops the heart. It is the third and final drug used for executions, following a sedative and paralytic.  The drug vials and syringes used in Warner’s execution were submitted to the medical examiner’s office, and the autopsy report shows that two of the syringes were labeled with white tape “120 mEq Potassium Chloride”. However, the same report shows the 12 empty vials used to fill the syringes were labelled “20 mL single dose Potassium Acetate Injection, USP 40 mEq\2 mEq\mL”. Whoops? We now know the story gets—if you can imagine it—even worse. Yesterday a grand jury released a new report finding, among other things, that: the state of Oklahoma nearly used the same incorrect drug in another execution (that of convict Richard Glossip, which Gov. Mary Fallin eventually stayed) in September; the mistakes happened because, in the words of Attorney General Scott Pruitt, "a number of individuals responsible for carrying out the execution process were careless, cavalier and in some circumstances dismissive of established procedures that were intended to guard against the very mistakes that occurred"; the then-warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Anita Trammell, noticed that some of the vials set to be used in the Glossip execution were labeled as the wrong drug but, she testified, she "thought it was the same thing"; even after the presence of the wrong drug was uncovered, the governor's then–general counsel, Steve Mullins, encouraged corrections officials to go ahead with the execution anyway, since "filing a motion to stay would look bad for the State of Oklahoma because potassium acetate had already been used in Warner's execution"; and Mullins falsely claimed that potassium chloride and potassium acetate were "basically one in the same drug" and told the deputy attorney general to "Google it."  The grand jury declined to hand down any indictments for now, but the report is, to put it mildly, scathing. "It is unacceptable for the governor's general counsel to so flippantly and recklessly disregard the written protocol and the rights of Richard Glossip," it reads in one place. "This investigation revealed that the paranoia of identifying participants clouded the Department's judgment and caused administrators to blatantly violate their own policies," it reads in another. "The Warden carelessly assumed others would fulfill [her] own oversight responsibility in ensuring that the proper drugs were procured," blares a particularly critical subheading. "Oklahomans should car[...]

At CPAC, Pro–Criminal Justice Reform and Anti–Death Penalty Activists Make Their Case

Fri, 04 Mar 2016 17:34:00 -0500

The GOP is no longer monolithically the tough-on-crime party many think of it as being. As the debate rages on over whether or not we're living through a "libertarian moment," it's worth noting that conversations around criminal justice reform are featuring prominently this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Groups like Right on Crime and Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP), once viewed mostly as novelties within the movement, are now fixtures of CPAC. What's more, they're making the case for rethinking the party line on criminal justice issues in decidedly conservative terms. "The first year we got a lot of weird looks," CCATDP's advocacy coordinator, Marc Hyden, says. "But since we keep coming back, we're accepted as just another part of the umbrella of conservatism. Nobody questions whether I'm a conservative or not—I'm talking about pro-life policies, fiscal responsibility, and limited government, and the death penalty just doesn't work with that." Right on Crime Deputy Director Derek Cohen also has a playbook for reaching his fellow conservatives—and different messages work for different groups, he says. When talking to fiscal conservatives, he likes to point out that the same government that runs the post office runs the prison system. "Not exactly a model of efficiency," he says. In Texas, where Right on Crime is based, a move toward giving low-level offenders probation or parole instead of prison time has allowed the state to forgo spending $2 billion on new prison infrastructure. Social conservatives, on the other hand, "tend to appreciate the human value" and the "redemptive quality" of in-facility programs that help people—including people who have made serious mistakes—better themselves. "Even for serious crimes, even for violent crimes, when we send someone away for a long time, their life is fundamentally altered," Cohen says. "That could be altered for the better, but that's only if we're putting in the rehabilitational elements that reduce recidivism." He conjures the example of a father and husband who gets caught with a little bit of heroin. His prison sentence under the old scheme would likely be just long enough to cause him to lose his job and experience problems at home. For social conservatives genuinely nervous about the decline of the family, that's clearly a sub-optimal outcome. If instead people like that get intensive probation, "they're at work. They're at their kids' ballgames." There's some evidence policy is moving in tandem with the increased support among conservatives. Houston's district attorney recently introduced guidelines whereby most first-time low-level drug offenders are diverted into community programs instead of locked up, for example. We're seeing progress on capital punishment as well. Just yesterday Florida's legislature passed an overhaul to make it less likely that offenders will end up on death row. On the same day a judge ruled that Alabama's execution system, like Florida's before it, is unconstitutional. Last year Nebraska abolished its death penalty, and on Wednesday of this week the Utah state senate voted to do the same. "Now it's heading over to the [Utah state] House," Hyden says, "and the speaker of the House is against the death penalty! So we may get another red state to repeal the death penalty, which proves that Nebraska wasn't an anomaly." The piecemeal nature of these victories can also be used to appeal to conservatives, he says. "I look at it through a Tenth Amendment framework—change should be done at the state level. If it's not expressly mentioned in the Constitution, it should be done by the states." *** Reason TV caught up with CCATDP's Hyden at CPAC last year. See what he had to say below. src="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="560">[...]

The Feds Shouldn't Prosecute Dylann Roof

Thu, 15 Oct 2015 06:00:00 -0400

Dylann Roof, the man charged with murdering nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, faces execution or life imprisonment if he is convicted in state court. A federal indictment announced in July threatens him with the same penalties, although you can't kill a man more than once or lock him up for more than a lifetime.

What looks like a redundant prosecution is actually something worse. It is an unconstitutional attempt to federalize a crime that South Carolina's courts are perfectly capable of handling, for the sake of sending a message that the criminal law should not be used to send.

The New York Times reports that "Justice Department and F.B.I. officials have said the Charleston shooting was so horrific and racially motivated that the federal government must address it." Noting that "South Carolina does not have a hate crime law," the Times says the feds worry that "a murder case alone would leave the racial component of the crime unaddressed."

In other words, by charging Roof with murdering people "because of their actual and perceived race and color," the Justice Department condemns his benighted beliefs as well as his appalling actions. The Times notes that the evidence against Roof includes his "racist Internet manifesto" as well as his anti-black comments as he shot parishioners at the church.

Since Roof already faces the maximum penalty under state law, he can hardly receive extra punishment for his bigotry. But defendants in less serious cases can and do: An assault that might be punished by a year or two in prison under state law can trigger a sentence up to 10 years under the federal hate crime statute if the defendant has a history of writing or saying racist stuff.

In fact, the offender in such a case can be punished twice for the same crime, once under state law and again under federal law. And if he happens to be acquitted in state court, he can be tried again in federal court.

This sort of serial prosecution looks a lot like double jeopardy, which is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment. But according to the Supreme Court, it is merely "dual sovereignty": The same action is two crimes, one for each government that has jurisdiction.

You may wonder where Congress got the authority to federalize a crime based on the nasty opinions expressed by the person who committed it. The provision under which Roof was charged, which applies to cases where the victim was chosen because of his "actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin," is supposedly authorized by the 13th Amendment.

If you do not understand how the constitutional ban on slavery applies to someone who punches an African American or a Latino while shouting a racial epithet, or to someone who specializes in mugging Jews because he figures they have a lot of money, you are not alone. As the Cato Institute and Reason Foundation (which publishes this magazine) noted in a 2013 Supreme Court brief, the provision cited in Roof's federal indictment "does not prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude"; "nor is it a prophylactic measure intended to assist in preventing the return of slavery or involuntary servitude."

The constitutional rationale for another provision of the federal hate crime law, covering crimes in which the victims were selected because of their "gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability," is even less plausible. All it takes to make a federal case out of such a crime is a weapon "that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce."

The farcical justifications for the federal hate crime statute are especially troubling because there is no reason to think the offenders it covers would otherwise go unpunished. If the Charleston massacre is exactly the sort of crime the law was meant to address, that just shows how gratuitous the law is.

Drama as FDA Prepares to Confiscate Execution Drugs Headed for Nebraska

Thu, 18 Jun 2015 17:45:00 -0400

(image) Last month, my colleague Lauren Galik wrote about the atypical drama that unfolded when the Nebraska legislature overrode, by a single vote, the governor's veto of a law abolishing the death penalty in the state. Now the situation has gotten even more interesting.

BuzzFeed News has twice reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to stop a shipment of sodium thiopental when it arrives from India. The drug, which Gov. Pete Ricketts (R–Neb.) plans to use to execute 10 inmates, is banned in this country:

“Please give me a call when you have time to discuss,” Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes recently wrote to the would-be supplier of the state’s execution drugs. His email contained an attachment: a 2013 court ruling that spells out that the drugs the state spent more than $50,000 on would not be allowed into the United States.

The drugs aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the court ruling that Frakes attached makes it clear that the FDA has no choice but to seize the drugs when they come to the states.

The shipment, enough for hundreds of lethal injections, is expected to arrive any day now, according to public records and emails obtained by BuzzFeed News.

An FDA representative has already, according to the story, warned the state that "there is no FDA approved application for sodium thiopental, and it is illegal to import an unapproved new drug into the United States." But Nebraska's chief executive says Nebraska isn't "bound" by the court decision requiring the FDA to seize all incoming shipments of the execution drug—and that the legislature doesn't have the authority to change existing death row prisoners' sentences.

The conflict presents libertarian opponents of both capital punishment and big government, like me, with a conundrum: Should the FDA's smackdown of a decision by a duly elected executive about how to govern his state be welcomed or denounced?

My disdain for agents of a heavy-handed federal bureaucracy is strong, but so is my conviction that the death penalty has no place in America today. To the extent that there are conditions under whch government intervention is justified, halting a sadistic practice that has already led to the state-sanctioned taking of innocent human lives seems like a strong contender. But is it worth embracing a precedent of federal agencies' powers outweighing states' decision-making rights?

The good news is that the veto override in Nebraska suggests the tide is turning against capital punishment. As such, I'm hopeful we're heading for a time when executions are a thing of the past because the people in all 50 states demanded an end to them—no federal intervention necessary.

Brickbat: Don't Lose Your Head

Fri, 29 May 2015 06:00:00 -0400

(image) The government of Saudi Arabia is looking to looking to hire eight new executioners to keep up with the growing number of people sentenced to death by beheading. The executioners will also perform amputations on people convicted of lesser crimes.

Missouri Set to Execute Man Who Is Literally Missing Part of His Brain

Tue, 17 Mar 2015 15:05:00 -0400

The Supreme Court of the United States has made itself clear: The government may not execute people with severe mental disabilities. Missouri law is also clear. It reads: "No person condemned to death shall be executed if as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks capacity to understand the nature and purpose of the punishment about to be imposed..." Yet today, at 6 p.m. local time, the state of Missouri will execute Cecil Clayton, a man who 43 years ago suffered a devastating accident in which a section of his brain "the size of a fist" was damaged and had to be removed. Reports The Guardian: A man who before [the accident] occurred had been a teetotal devoted husband and father of five, who preached and sang the gospel in his own ministry, developed severe memory loss and despair, sank into alcoholism and split from his wife, had hallucinations and displayed bouts of violent rage. ... He has the reading ability of a nine-year-old, has visual and auditory hallucinations in which he is convinced that he is accompanied by a man and a woman wherever he goes, is incapable of simple tasks such as ordering food from the prison commissary, and is under the delusion that he will never be executed because God will intervene and free him so that he can return to his preaching and gospel singing. Three forensic psychologists have spent time with Clayton in multiple visits spanning 2005 to this year, and have unanimously and consistently concluded that he is entitled to constitutional protections because of his mental incompetence. This is not a question of guilt—no one denies that Clayton shot to death a police officer in 1996. This is a question of competency, and whether we ought to be in the business of putting to death people suffering from mental illness or disability so severe they are unable to care for themselves without assistance. (One of the psychologists who evaluated Clayton said just that about the level of his intellectual functioning.) The Court has ruled that doing so violates the Eighth Amendment, but it also left states to determine what's meant by severely mentally ill—and the state of Missouri is refusing to acknowledge that the category applies in this case. There is some precedent for that decision. In 1992, a convicted cop killer, Rickey Ray Rector, was executed in Arkansas. Rector had sustained the equivalent of a frontal lobotomy from a self-inflicted gunshot wound that left him with a "dim simplicity" and little awareness of his situation. Then–Gov. Bill Clinton, intent on being seen as tough on crime, nevertheless left the campaign trail to fly home and sign the death warrant himself. Rector's was the last execution in this country of someone missing part of his or her brain. That may change tonight. Back in December, I wrote about the growing opposition among conservatives to capital punishment—especially in cases where the person to be put to death is clearly mentally unsound. Back then, a catalog of conservative leaders signed on to a letter urging Texas Gov. Rick Perry to commute the sentence of another mentally ill inmate, Scott Panetti. The pressure appeared to work, with the courts ordering a last-minute stay of execution. No such effort has materialized this time around. Despite the gaping hole in Clayton's brain scan, the conservative leaders who months ago were so troubled by what was about to happen in Texas seem unmoved by what will happen hours from now in Missouri. See Reason TV's recent video The Battle for Death Penalty Transparency here: frameborder="0" src="" height="315" width="560">[...]

Social Pressure Works: Court Orders Stay of Execution for Scott Panetti

Wed, 03 Dec 2014 16:12:00 -0500

Earlier today, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the imminent execution of a convicted murderer named Scott Panetti. He was set to be killed less than eight hours later at 6 p.m. local time.

The reasoning given was "to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter." It's not clear what new information or "late arriving" developments sparked the decision, but it seems highly likely that sustained, vocal opposition from a large number of conservative leaders, including former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, played a role. A letter signed by nearly two-dozen such individuals argues that Panetti is not of sound mind and that, as a result, taking his life would be immoral.

Said Marc Hyden of the group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty in a statement after the announcement:

Political conservatives and Evangelicals from Ron Paul to Jay Sekulow have helped awaken our nation to what many view as a travesty of justice. Texas was about to cross a line by executing a severely mentally ill man. A wide array of conservative and faith leaders have spoken out in record numbers about this case. We have made it abundantly clear that numerous conservatives and Evangelicals view executing those who are mentally ill as a violation of our values as Americans. Conservatives have demonstrated we are firmly part of what appears to be a national consensus against executing people who are mentally ill.

See my colleague Lauren Galik's discussion of the Panetti case here.

Read my examination of shifting conservative attitudes about capital punishment here

Or watch "3 Reasons to Get Rid of the Death Penalty" from Reason TV, below.

Free Minds and Free Markets aren't free! Support Reason's annual Webathon with a tax-deductible donation and help change the world in a libetarian direction. For details on giving levels and swag, go here now.

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The Right Side of Death

Wed, 03 Dec 2014 12:27:00 -0500

The march away from support for capital punishment was a long time coming for Ron Paul. Years ago, the Libertarian-turned-Republican then-member of Congress claimed to favor the death penalty. In 1980, he moderated his position, saying his feelings were "not so clearly defined" as they once had been. Then, in 2007, he announced that he'd had a change of heart and could no longer sanction executions "for federal purposes." But he took care to reiterate that it was merely the federal death penalty he opposed. That was then. Now, his home state of Texas is preparing to put to death convicted murderer Scott Panetti. In recent weeks, Paul has helped to lead the charge against Panetti's execution, which was scheduled for mere hours from now until the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed it minutes ago to give the court time "to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter." Paul's evolution on the issue is not necessarily surprising. He has long been something of a libertarian conscience for the Republican Party, urging fiscal discipline and military nonintervention. Libertarians tend to be against capital punishment. What is surprising is the list of conservative leaders who have joined Paul in asking Texas Gov. Rick Perry to reduce Panetti's sentence to life in prison. Individuals like tough-on-crime former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, and Gary Bauer, president of the faith-and-families group American Values, recently signed a letter to that end. They note that "we must be on guard that such an extraordinary government sanction not be used against a person who is mentally incapable of rational thought." There's some evidence the larger conservative movement is also rethinking its knee-jerk support for the death penalty. In 1994, Republicans favored the practice by an enormous 73-point margin. Twenty years later, that gap has narrowed by 19 points; a fifth of Republicans now say they're "not in favor" of the death penalty for convicted murderers. But there are idiosyncrasies about the Panetti situation that could make it a poor bellwether. One reason so many people are objecting to this particular execution is that the inmate is believed to suffer from severe mental illness. Per the letter asking for a commutation: Mr. Panetti [is] one of the most seriously mentally ill prisoners on death row in the United States. Rather than serving as a measured response to murder, the execution of Mr. Panetti would only serve to undermine the public's faith in a fair and moral justice system. There's a laundry list of reasons to believe Panetti is mentally impaired, including a history of hallucinatory episodes, some leading to forced hospitalizations, that predated his crime by more than a decade. He chose to represent himself at trial and then proceeded to babble incoherently, sleep through important testimony, and attempt to call Jesus Christ to the stand. "This was no act cooked up to get him off of murder charges," wrote several signatories of the letter in a subsequent op-ed for The Washington Times. The thought of executing a man under these circumstances is clearly disquieting to many people. But some of the conservative leaders voicing concern in this instance nonetheless say they support capital punishment as a general rule. They see the Panetti case as an exception because they believe it would be a "miscarriage of justice" to put to death someone so clearly mentally unsound—not because they believe the death penalty is inherently unjust. There's a problem with that type of hairsplitting, however: It trusts government with the awful power to separate the truly insane from the fraudsters. The same government that conservatives routinely blast as incompetent, that brought us Internal Revenue Service targeting of Tea Party groups, and th[...]

Stephanie Slade on Whether the Tide of Conservative Support for the Death Penalty is Finally Changing

Wed, 03 Dec 2014 12:27:00 -0500

Free Minds and Free Markets aren't free! Support Reason's annual Webathon with a tax-deductible donation and help change the world in a libertarian direction. For details on giving levels and swag, go here now.

(image) Once upon a time, former Rep. Ron Paul was solidly in favor of capital punishment. Now he's helping to lead the charge for a commutation of the sentence of Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti, who was set to be executed tonight. Minutes ago, a court of appeals announced that the execution would be stayed to allow it "to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter."

We can't be sure that attitudes are headed for a tipping point. Some three out of four Republicans still say they’re in favor of the death penalty, and many of the conservative leaders who joined Paul in asking for a stay of Panetti's execution did so because they believe he's mentally ill, not because they believe capital punishment is inherently wrong.

But conservatives should be skeptical of empowering government—the same government the GOP routinely blasts as incompetent—to decide who's truly insane and who's just faking it, writes Stephanie Slade.

Louisiana Tricked a Local Hospital Into Supplying Execution Drugs

Sun, 10 Aug 2014 12:30:00 -0400

A new piece published by The Lens reveals that the Louisiana Department of Corrections (LDOC) tricked a local hospital into supplying it with drugs it intended to use for an execution that has since been delayed. According to documents obtained and published by The Lens's Della Hasselle, the Louisiana Department of Corrections placed an order for one of the two execution drugs it needed, hydromorphone, with Lake Charles Memorial Hospital on January 28th—eight days before condemned child-killer Christopher Sepulvado was scheduled to be executed. The state already had the other drug it needed, midazolam, in stock at the time it placed the order, although the origin of that drug is still unknown. When the hospital filled the hydromorphone order for LDOC, they assumed it was going to be used to treat sick inmates housed at Louisiana's Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, not to kill a death row inmate housed at the state penitentiary.   A spokesman for the Lake Charles Memorial Hospital told local Louisiana news outlet, KPLC, "At no time did [the hospital] believe or was led to believe that the drug would be used for an execution." Instead, a pharmacist at Elayn Hunt Correctional center told the hospital "they needed the drug, hydromorphone, for a medical patient." Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, a board member for Lake Charles Memorial Hospital told The Lens, "Had we known of the real use, we never would have done it." This isn't the first time Louisiana has used shady tactics in an attempt to obtain lethal injection drugs. Emails released by the publication in January reveal that Louisiana prison officials explored illegally obtaining pentobarbital last September from a compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma that was not licensed to do business in Louisiana. However, it appears that this is the first time a state has openly lied to a hospital in order to obtain drugs it wanted to use for an execution. What's more, Louisiana broke its own execution protocol in the process, since the drug was ordered 22 days after it was supposed to have already been in stock. Ultimately, Sepulvado's execution was delayed for at least six-months in order for prison officials to review the "most effective" dosage levels of lethal drugs for its protocol. This delay came shortly after Clayton Lockett's botched execution in Oklahoma, which was carried out using one of the same drugs Louisiana intended to use on Sepulvado. It's unclear if any actions will be taken against the state in light of this new information. According to Hasselle, "A hospital spokesman hasn't responded to comment when I asked if Lake Charles had any plans to sue the LDOC." Louisiana state officials have refused to comment on the story, which—let's be honest—shouldn't be all that surprising at this point.[...]

Death Row Odds

Fri, 01 Aug 2014 12:00:00 -0400

An estimated 4.1 percent of all death row inmates are innocent, according to a study published in the April Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers Samuel Gross, Barbara O'Brien, Chen Hu, and Edward H Kennedy, from the University of Michigan Law School, the Michigan State University College of Law, the American College of Radiology Clinical Research Center, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, respectively, came up with this stunning figure by using the exoneration rate on death row and extending it to inmates whose capital punishment has been replaced by life imprisonment, at which point efforts to exonerate them largely subside. Currently, about 1.7 percent of inmates on death row are formally exonerated.

"Since 1973, nearly 8,500 defendants have been sentenced to death in the United States, and 138 of them have been exonerated," said Gross. "Our study means that more than 200 additional innocent defendants have been sentenced to death in that period. Most of these undiscovered innocent capital defendants have been resentenced to life in prison, and then forgotten."

The study notes that in a concurrence in Kansas v. Marsh, a 2006 Supreme Court decision upholding the death penalty, Justice Antonin Scalia came up with an error rate of .027 percent. He based that number on extending the exoneration rate of a small subgroup of inmates (capital cases) to the wider American prison population, which the study described as a "silly" claim.

Die, Death Penalty, Die! The Libertarian Case Against Capital Punishment

Thu, 31 Jul 2014 09:03:00 -0400

(image) Another week, another botched killing under the legal euphemism of capital punishment. After macabre screw-ups in Oklahoma and Ohio, it was Arizona’s turn last week, when double-murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood III took about two hours to die. The specific problem this time around was an apparently unreliable “cocktail” of the drugs used in the lethal injection process.

But let’s face it: There’s no good way to kill a person, even one as completely unsympathetic as Wood (he killed his ex-girlfriend and her father, shooting them at point-blank range). As a libertarian, I’m not surprised that the state is so incompetent that it can’t even kill people efficiently. But I’m far more outraged by the idea that anyone anywhere seriously thinks the death penalty passes for good politics or sane policy. It’s expensive, ineffective, and most of all, deeply offensive to ideals of truly limited government.

That's the start of my latest Daily Beast column. I run through arguments about how expensive capital punishment is, its ineffectiveness on murder rates, and the reality that innocent people are on death row before offering up this:

The state’s first role—and arguably its only one—is protecting the lives and property of its citizens. In everything it does – from collecting taxes to seizing property for public works to incentivizing “good” behaviors and habits—it should use the least violence or coercion possible. No matter how despicable murderers can be, the state can make sure we’re safe by locking them up behind bars for the rest of their—and our—lives. That’s not only a cheaper answer than state-sanctioned murder, it’s a more moral one, too.

Read the whole thing.

Federal Judge Strikes Down California's Death Penalty

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 15:47:00 -0400

A federal judge has ruled that California's death penalty system is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney handed down an order Wednesday, finding that the system is arbitrary and in violation of the Constitution's 8th Amendment.


A Botched Execution in Alabama

Wed, 07 May 2014 12:01:00 -0400

Sara Mayeux has a fascinating review-essay in Public Books on the history of executions and incareration, and on whether and how to judge the past from the perspective of the present. There's too much here to summarize in a brief blog post, but I can at least give you a sense of the article's flavor by quoting her concluding anecdote. This section of the story stars the infamous Alabama governor George Wallace and a pragmatic liberal Democrat, neither of whom takes the position you might expect. It ends on a note that foreshadows last week's slapstick snuff-film of an execution in Oklahoma.

The context is

(image) the execution, in Alabama in 1983, of one John Louis Evans, who, in the course of "a two-month crime spree" of "nine kidnappings and thirty armed robberies," killed a Mobile pawnshop owner in front of his two children. George Wallace was beginning his final term as Alabama's governor when he was asked to sign Evans's death warrant. Wallace's notoriety, of course, rests primarily on the day in 1963 that he stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to keep black students out. But it is also worth noting that his 1968 third-party presidential campaign perfected the "tough-on-crime" sloganeering that would dominate much of American electoral politics into the 1990s.

Privately, George Wallace had long harbored doubts about capital punishment. In 1964, he told his law clerk that he thought it should be ruled unconstitutional. By 1983, Wallace had survived a shooting, converted to born-again Christianity, and recanted his segregationism. In Mandery's words, his "reservations about the constitutionality of capital punishment had evolved into full-blown opposition." The night before Evans was due to be executed, Wallace telephoned his lieutenant governor "in tears," Mandery recounts. Wallace said that "he had been up all night 'praying the Bible,' and couldn't bring himself to sign the warrant." That lieutenant governor was the former law clerk, Bill Baxley, with whom Wallace had shared his reservations 20 years before. Baxley was a liberal Democrat—as Alabama's attorney general, he had earned the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan for his investigation and prosecution of civil rights cases—who supported the death penalty. He convinced George Wallace that there was no political choice but to sign the warrant. Mandery ends the anecdote here, but I looked up what happened next....Evans was strapped into an electric chair and, after two botched jolts that left him burned but alive, was shocked to death on the state of Alabama's third attempt.

Read the rest here.