Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chemical mix and human error lead to controversial executions

Arizona spent 2 hours killing death row inmate Joseph Wood this week, an unusually long time for an execution. Wood's death has reopened the debate about capital punishment and lethal injection. Lethal injection is used in all 32 states that have the death penalty.

Some witnesses said Wood was gasping for breath and seemed to be in pain. Others said he was simply snoring. The state of Arizona said Wood didn't suffer. Either way, there are renewed concerns that executions, which are supposed to be quick and painless, are neither.

Typically executions are performed using 3 drugs in stages. The 1st drug is an anesthetic. The 2nd drug is called a paralytic and the 3rd drug is supposed to stop the heart.

For years, executioners used a drug called sodium thiopental as the 1st drug, the anesthetic, until the only U.S. producer of the drug stopped making it. Then the United States turned to European manufacturers, but they refused to sell the drug for use in executions.

Since sodium thiopental was taken off the market for executions, states have turned to a drug called midazolam for the anesthetic. But experts believe there have been problems with the drug in at least three executions. The problems described by witnesses included gasping, snorting or choking sounds and, in one execution, the inmate was described as speaking.

Wood was injected with midazolam on Wednesday, as well as hydromorphone, a narcotic painkiller that, with an overdose, halts breathing and stops the heart from beating. It is one of the new combinations that states have tried, with some controversial results.

What would qualify as a botched execution? Michael Radelet, a professor of sociology and law, said an execution is botched when it looks like the inmate endured "prolonged suffering" for 20 minutes or more.

Whether they're "botched" or not, plenty of executions don't go by the book. Most of the executions listed here were compiled by Human Rights Watch.

Dennis McGuire, executed January 16, 2014, in Ohio. Columbus Dispatch reporter Alan Johnson said the execution process took 24 minutes, and that McGuire appeared to be gasping for air for 10 to 13 minutes. He had been injected with midazolam and hydromorphone, a 2-drug combination that hadn't been used before in the United States. McGuire, 53, was convicted in 1994 in the rape and murder of a 22-year-old pregnant woman.

Clayton Lockett, executed April 29, 2014, in Oklahoma. Lockett was injected with midazolam, but instead of becoming unconscious, he twitched, convulsed and spoke. The execution was halted, but Lockett died after 43 minutes. A team that prepared Lockett for execution failed to set a properly functioning IV in his leg, according to preliminary findings of an independent autopsy. Lockett was convicted in the 1999 death of an Oklahoma woman who was buried alive after she was raped and shot.

Jose High, executed November 7, 2001, in Georgia. This execution illustrates a common problem. The execution team had trouble finding a usable vein and spent 39 minutes looking before finally sticking a needle into High's hand. A 2nd needle was inserted between his neck and shoulder by a physician. 69 minutes after the execution began, he was pronounced dead. High was convicted in a 1976 store robbery and the kidnapping and murder of an 11-year-old boy.

Claude Jones, executed December 7, 2000, in Texas. The execution team spent 30 minutes looking for a suitable vein, a difficult task because of Jones' history of drug abuse. He was convicted in the 1990 murder of a liquor store owner.

Joseph Cannon, executed April 23, 1998, in Texas. The needle popped out and Cannon said to witnesses, "It's come undone." The needle was reinserted and 15 minutes later a weeping Cannon made his second final statement. He was convicted of murder.

John Wayne Gacy, executed May 10, 1994, in Illinois. Lethal chemicals solidified and clogged in the IV tube leading to Gacy's arm. A new tube was installed and the execution proceeded. Gacy, one of America's most notorious killers, was convicted in 1980 of raping and killing 33 boys and young men he lured into his home.

Charles Walker, executed September 12, 1990, in Illinois. The execution was prolonged because a kink in the plastic tubing stopped the flow of chemicals into Walker's body and an intravenous needle pointed at Walker's fingers, instead of his heart, said a Missouri State Prison engineer hired to assist in the execution. Walker was convicted of 2 counts of murder.

Raymond Landry, executed December 13, 1988, in Texas. The catheter dislodged and flew through the air 1 minutes after injection of drugs into Landry's body. The execution team spent 14 minutes inserting it again and Landry was pronounced dead 40 minutes after being strapped to the gurney. He had been convicted of murder.

Source: CNN, July 26, 2014

DPN: This article fails to mention the ordeal of Ohio's death row inmate Romell Broom, who survived his execution by lethal injection.

Are US Executions Really Humane?

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
As the nation is horrified by another botched execution, a capital defense lawyer in Texas, legal scholar in New York and the former warden of San Quentin work against capital punishment.

There were only 3 people in the room: Jeanne Woodford, the chaplain and the man strapped to a gurney with tubes coming out of his arms. After hearing the man's last words, Woodford signaled the corrections officer who was "working the chemicals," which means in prison argot that he started infusions of lethal chemicals that flowed into the man on the gurney. As warden of California's San Quentin, Woodford presided over this high-tech ritual of punishment four times. After a stint as Executive Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, she threw in the towel to become Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus, the abolitionist organization that sponsored the 2012 SAFE referendum seeking to replace the death penalty with life without parole. Though the referendum failed to pass, Woodford is still hard at work in the movement to abolish capital punishment in California.

Meanwhile, across the continent, in the gentility of Fordham University's school of law, Arthur A. McGivney Professor Deborah W. Denno writes scholarly articles about "working the chemicals" that are published in the nation's leading law journals and quoted at death penalty hearings before the United States Supreme Court.

Until lately, the chemicals Denno wrote about were sodium thiopental, an ultra-short acting barbiturate that, given intravenously, is supposed to deliver almost instantaneous sleep so that the condemned person will be impervious to the rest of the evening's proceedings; pancuronium bromide, next on the menu, which is related to curare, plant extract poisons from Central and South America traditionally used on arrows which paralyze the body's skeletal muscles (including the muscles of breathing); and for the coup de grace, a jolt of potassium chloride, which stops the heart. This deadly mixture was known as Carson's Cocktail, so named after the Oklahoma pathologist, A. Jay Carson, MD, who concocted it as a "humane" alternative to the electric chair.

Since the early 1980s, the Carson Cocktail was the gold standard for dispatching society's sinners (and the innocent too, if recent exonerations are factored in). But since thiopental supplies have dried up because of the EU's resistance to the death penalty states embracing the death penalty have been forced by the courts to seek other drugs with results like this week's botched execution in Arizona. Now Professor Denno must address the ghoulish new and often secretive lethal chemicals in use even as states calls for bringing back the electric chair or firing squad.

In Texas, attorney Kathryn Kase despaired as the Lone Star State executed its 500th person since the resumption of the death penalty. Kase wears 3 hats. She is Executive Director of the Texas Defender Service, where she supervises a staff of 10 lawyers. She is herself a courtroom lawyer specializing in death penalty cases. And she and her staff mentor Texas lawyers in need of capital litigation tactics.

Kase's organization was founded as a public-defender body with a focus on the death penalty, but not specifically an abolitionist organization dedicated to ending the death penalty. When she puts on her administrative hat, Kase must play hardball as a politico, convincing fellow politicians of the importance of the Texas Defender Service and wringing money out of the state government and foundations.

Woodford, Denno and Kase could not be more different in personality and background, yet all have thrust themselves into the battle against capital punishment. There was a time when working in capital punishment was considered men's work that was too gruesome for women. Not anymore.

Jeanne Woodford, whose manner is crisp and to-the-point, took a BA degree in criminology and worked her way up to the highest rank of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Woodford told us that she chose criminology because there were few women in the field and because she wanted to bring a more even-handed standard of justice to criminology as practiced in California.

Woodford is dismayed that, since the 1950s, penology has been dominated by a punitive rather than rehabilitative philosophy; people want their pound of flesh, even though punishment deepens sociopathic behavior, she says. Mere confinement accomplishes nothing and rehabilitation is essential whenever possible, says Woodford.

An unabashed abolitionist, Woodford says she is not "soft on crime" but as a "policy person" she finds no respectable evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent. By the time the legalities are done, it also costs more to execute a person than to incarcerate him or her for life she says. There is, she adds, a small element of the criminal population that it is so dangerous that it requires lifelong incarceration.

Woodford's demeanor is so crisp that we felt a little trepidation about asking her how she felt about overseeing the execution of 4 men when she was warden of San Quentin in light of her views on the death penalty. "That," Woodford replied, "Was a policy issue."

We asked Woodford what, specifically, changed her mind about capital punishment and she told us she has always opposed it on moral and practical grounds and that nothing has changed her opinion. Woodford says she sees hope that behavioral science is beginning to change peoples' minds about the issue.

One could not imagine a woman more different from Jeanne Woodford than Kathryn Kase. Funny, streetwise and a gifted lawyer, Kase started out as a journalist in San Antonio, Texas, got bored covering police court, and craved the action on the other side of the bar. Kase went to law school and moved to New York, where she worked for brief periods for private law firms. She then returned to Texas, where she says she found her calling in the Texas Defender Service, of which a more thankless labor could not be imagined.

By most accounts, Texas really needs Kase. By 2011, Texas governor Rick Perry had presided over more executions than any governor in modern history - 234. The numbers continues to grow.

Speaking to Randi Hensley of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in an internal memorandum, a Texas lawyer agreed. "Once guys get on death row in Texas, there's about a 90% chance they will die," said the lawyer: "There are no public defenders, no money, no experienced death penalty lawyers."

While the lawyer's observations are somewhat exaggerated, not by very much: organizations like the Texas Defender Service and the death penalty "clinic" at the University of Texas are so short staffed that they find themselves desperately filing appeals moments before the chemicals began to flow. Press reports of Texas executions have been chilling.

As Kathryn Kase dukes it out in the rough and tumble of Texas courthouses and the statehouse, Deborah Denno continues to highlight the cruelty of lethal injections in her academic work. Soft-spoken and poised, Denno says her turning point was the electrocution of Willie Francis, who walked the long road twice because the 1st execution was bungled.

When lethal injections supplanted the "hot squat" (the electric chair) as a more "humane" means of extinguishing human life, Deborah Denno made the cruelty of lethal injections her academic focus. Denno's work is invaluable in helping to paint for the public a complete picture of executions, from electrocution to the death gurney says Steve Hall, executive director of the Texas abolitionist group StandDown.

In a field once dominated by men, Kase, Denno and Woodford are bringing new passion to the fight against the death penalty along with a small pool of capital defenders like Judy Clarke and Maurie Levin. This week's shocking botched execution may bring more Americans to their side of the issue.

Source: Epoch Times, July 26, 2014. Robert Wilbur is a psychopharmacologist who also writes semi-popular articles on capital punishment, prison reform, and animal rights. Martha Rosenberg is a regular contributor to Epoch Times.

Most US people executed not evil: Study

A new study shows that prisoners put to death in the US are hardly ever the worst of the worst criminals.

The study, published in Hastings Law Journal, examined 100 executions carried out between 2012 and 2013, many of these people are not cold, calculating, remorseless killers.

"A lot of folks even familiar with criminal justice and the death penalty system thought that, by the time you executed somebody, you're really gonna get these people that the court describes as the worst of the worst," Robert Smith, the study's lead researcher and an assistant professor of law at the University of North Carolina, told The Huffington Post.

"It was surprising to us just how many of the people that we found had evidence in their record suggesting that there are real problems with functional deficits that you wouldn't expect to see in people being executed," Smith added.

One of the people studied as part of the research is Daniel Cook whose mom used alcoholic drinks as well as drugs while she was pregnant with him. Cook's mother and grandparents molested him and his dad abused him by burning his genitals with a cigarette.

Even later when he was placed in foster care, a "foster parent chained him nude to a bed and raped him while other adults watched from the next room through a 1-way mirror," said Harvard Law Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

The prosecutor who presented the death penalty case against Cook said he would never have done had he known about his brutal past. Nevertheless, he was put to death on August 8, 2012.

The US Supreme Court has found that executing inmates with an intellectual disability or severe mental illness can violate the Eighth Amendment, according to which cruel and unusual punishment are barred.

In addition, the court has found that severe childhood trauma can be a mitigating factor in a defendant's case, showed a press release accompanying the report.

Smith also noted that the courts had found, regardless of the heinousness of the crime, the prosecution must also prove the defendant is "morally culpable."

He further argued people ended up executed did not have a chance to receive adequate representation at the trial level. In other words, juries were often unaware of defendants' intellectual or mental health problems or their family history of extreme abuse.

He concluded that the reason why traumatic childhoods are raised is not necessarily aimed at making juries feel bad for the person on trial, but because of "decades of research" which shows these types of trauma can provoke the kinds of "functional deficits" that were visible in most of the cases studied in the report.

Source: Press TV, July 26, 2014

India: Would-be Executioners Line Up to Make a Killing as Wages Hiked

Hundreds of death row inmates are waiting for the hangman in prisons throughout India, but the country's judicial system is facing a shortage of executioners.

The hangmen's tribe have dwindled in recent years with executions becoming a rarity, while negligible remuneration and the ominous nature of the job have prevented newcomers to the profession.

However, all that is set to change at least in the southern state of Kerala, which has found a straightforward way to attract interest - raise the remuneration steeply.

According to report in a regional language daily, the wages for hangmen have gone up from a mere Rupees 500 (4.90, $8.33 pounds) to Rupees 200,000 (1,958, $3,330 pounds) per execution.

The sharp wage hike prompted hordes of aspirants to queue up for the job - in the hope of making a killing.

Apart from the office of the Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi which published the report, the state's central jails and associated departments also received a flurry of enquiries from would-be hangmen. Some called, others wrote and some others came in person, hoping to land the lucrative position, the daily said in a subsequent report.

In all, there are 16 convicts on death row pending appeal and the state has to keep a hangman ready, reports the Hindustan Times.

Kerala's Kannur Central jail, which houses the largest number of convicts sentenced to death in the state, received at least 50 applications after the news broke, according to the Mathrubhumi.

Some of the applicants spoke boastfully about taking on the difficult task, while some others saw it as a great opportunity to become debt free.

One man even picked the prisoner he wanted to hang - a convict sentenced to death in a sensational rape and murder case that rocked the state a few years ago. Another called up the Mathrubhumi's office to plead that he be allowed to hang all 16 convicts at one go as it would help him escape the burden of debts he had incurred.

Jail officials had a tough time convincing them that there was no permanent positions open for the executioner's job and therefore they could not entertain requests for the same, the Malayalam daily reported.

The dearth of people to take up the grim job has been fodder for popular films in Kerala's thriving film industry. The convention has been to look for paid volunteers whenever an execution is confirmed by the country's highest court.

In India, death penalty is by hanging and awarded only in the 'rarest of rare cases' with the last reported high-profile hanging being that of Afzal Guru in February 2013 for his role in the 2001 attack on the country's parliament.

Unfortunately for the applicants, the 16 convicts sentenced to the gallows in Kerala could appeal to commute their death sentences. Only when their appeal is overturned by the higher courts including the Supreme Court, and their final petition of mercy rejected by the president of the country, will they actually be executed.

In short, for all those aspiring executioners in Kerala who dreams of a windfall, hope is hanging by a thread.

Source: Yahoo News, July 26, 2014

Pakistan: Acid attacker awarded death penalty


The ATC judge awarded death sentence on 2 counts to Zulfiqar. 

Anti Terrorism Court (ACT) Judge Ishtiaq Ahmad awarded death penalty on Friday to man convicted of attacking a woman with acid and killing her near Mansoorabad police station. 

Prosecution said 30-year-old woman Ayesha Zafar, a divorcee, was going on a motorbike with her nephew Zunair Sajid, 14, on June 10 when Waqas Zulfiqar, a property dealer, threw acid on her. 

The woman and her nephew were injured and taken to a hospital. Later, they were referred to Allied Hospital where the woman succumbed. 

The ATC judge awarded death sentence on 2 counts to Zulfiqar. The convict was also directed to pay Rs400,000 compensation or undergo imprisonment of 1.5 years. He was also fined Rs1 million. 

Source: The Express Tribune, July 26, 2014

Madhya Pradesh: Acid attacker given death sentence by court

Morena, Madhya Pradesh: In a significant judgement, a youth has been sentenced to death by a local court for throwing acid on a woman following which she died.

Additional Sessions Judge at Ambah in the district K C Gupta yesterday awarded capital punishment to Jogendra Tomar (28), who had thrown acid on the face of Ruby Rawat (24) last year at her house in Porsa town of Morena, after she rejected his demand to live with him. Ruby had later succumbed to her injuries.

The judge observed that the crime committed by Jogendra was heinous and that merely awarding him life imprisonment would not have been enough. "It is because of this that I have decided to give him the death sentence," he further observed.

Enraged over Ruby's refusal to live with him, Jogendra, who is married, went to her house in Porsa on July 21 last year and threw acid on her face while she was sleeping. He also threw acid on some family members who tried to rescue Ruby. They had also sustained injuries in the attack.

Tomar was later arrested following a complaint filed against him by the deceased's father, Dataram. Police had registered a case under IPC sections 307 (attempt to murder), 326 (a) (causing permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person) and 450 (house-trespass in order to commit offence).

Source: PTI, July 25, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Texas: Lawyers file complaint against prosecutor in Corsicana arson-murder case

The Willingham's family house soon after the blaze
that took the lives of their three young children.
Houston lawyers Friday filed a complaint against a former North Texas prosecutor, claiming he lied about cutting a deal with a witness that helped send a possibly innocent Corsicana auto mechanic to his execution.

The complaint against John Jackson was lodged with the State Bar of Texas to spotlight the former prosecutor's alleged perjury during a 2010 court of inquiry called to review the murder case. Cameron Todd Willingham, 36, was executed in 2004 for the December 1991 murder of his three young children in an arson fire at his Corsicana home.

Neal Mann, a lawyer with Susman Godfrey LLP, said Jackson cut a deal with a jailhouse informer whose testimony was key to Willingham's conviction, then hid it from the court.

Jackson has denied that he offered special consideration to the informer in return for testimony, but Willingham supporters said they have documentation that Jackson intervened for the man when he later was incarcerated in state prison.

Willingham's conviction and execution gained international notoriety when three expert reviews questioned the accuracy of state and local arson investigations in the case.


Source: Houston Chronicle, Allan Turner, July 25, 2014

The Beginning of the End of America’s Death-Penalty Experiment

San Quentin Prison's brand new execution chamber
Beginnings and endings are not always apparent when they occur. The modern death-penalty era began on July 2, 1976, when the Supreme Court decided the case of Gregg v. Georgia. But we did not actually know it had begun until Jan. 17, 1977, which was the date the State of Utah executed Gary Gilmore by firing squad.

The thing about the firing squad, though, and most all other methods of execution the States adopted—including hanging, the electric chair and the gas chamber—is that they are not the least bit subtle. When you shoot somebody, or hang him, you know you are killing him. The death penalty, however, is the sausage factory of America’s legal system: Nobody wants to know what is actually going on.

So the states eventually embraced lethal injection as the preferred method of killing condemned murderers. Now we could all pretend that the process was nothing more than a sterile implementation of proportional punishment. Sure, we were still killing somebody, but the actual act of killing the condemned looked like something you might see on the medical channel. People sometimes ask me what it is like to witness an execution, and I tell them the most powerful thing about it is walking outside the prison after it is over, into the bright light of day, and seeing that the State has just killed someone, and the citizens don’t have a clue.

We do know, however, when the end of the modern death-penalty era began: April 29, 2014. That was the day we could no longer remain willfully naive. It was the date Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett.

Lockett had murdered a young woman named Stephanie Neiman. He shot her and buried her alive, an unusually grisly crime. He was not exactly the sort of murderer abolitionists would choose as a poster boy. But he became one anyway. As the execution was proceeding, he woke up and began straining against the leather straps that held him to the gurney. So gruesome was the scene that prison officials pulled the curtain, preventing the witnesses from seeing him writhe and gasp for air any further. Forty-three minutes later, he died.


Source: Politico Magazine, David R. Dow, July 25, 2014. Mr. Dow, who represents death-row inmates, is the Cullen professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the Rorschach visiting professor of history at Rice University. His most recent book is Things I’ve Learned from Dying.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Troubled U.S. executions raise questions about doctors in death chamber

Arizona Death Chamber
Almost all of the 32 states that use the death penalty either require or permit a physician to attend executions, which often are carried out by lesser-trained medical personnel, but doctors who participate risk losing their license to practice medicine if they are discovered to have helped.

There was a doctor present at the execution in Oklahoma in April, where an IV popped out when rapist and murderer Clayton Lockett was being executed. Prison officials halted the execution, but Lockett died of a heart attack about 40 minutes after the procedure started.

Similarly in Arizona, a doctor was present on Wednesday when it took at least two doses of a lethal drug cocktail to execute double murderer Joseph Wood. The Arizona Department of Corrections said the IVs were properly placed, and that Wood was fully sedated throughout the procedure.

The typical protocol for states requires that a medically trained person - such as a paramedic, military corpsman or certified medical assistant - administer the IV. Names are kept secret, including of any doctor who may assist.

Under guidelines set by the American Medical Association, a physician can confirm the death of an executed inmate. But a physician cannot declare death, administer drugs, monitor vital signs, select injection sites, start an IV, supervise drug injections or consult with a person carrying out the injection.

"A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution," the AMA said.


Source: Reuters, July 25, 2015

Japanese man executed in China over stimulant drug smuggling

Chinese authorities executed Friday a Japanese man in his 50s who had been sentenced to death in connection with stimulant drug smuggling.

Commenting on the execution, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told Kyodo News that China prudently applies the death penalty, and renders judgment based on strict legal procedures and reviews them. "The judicial branch also administers capital punishment based on normal procedures," Hong said.

Yang Yu, counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, voiced agreement with the execution, saying at a press conference Friday that drug-related offenses are considered serious crimes anywhere in the world.

"In China, the judicial branch independently hands down decisions based on the law, and all people whatever their nationality are treated equally and punished severely," he emphasized.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said China had notified Japan that the execution took place in the morning.

The man was sentenced to death in December 2012 and the ruling became final in August 2013, Japanese officials said, adding that he met his family on Thursday.

Since Tokyo and Beijing normalized diplomatic relations in 1972, the man, whose identity was not released, is the 5th Japanese to have been executed in China, according to the officials.

Kishida told a news conference in Tokyo that while it is up to China to decide what kind of penalty should be imposed on criminals, "We have conveyed to the Chinese side that we have taken a heightened interest in the death penalty handed down to Japanese nationals." In China, the smuggling of 50 grams or more of narcotics is an offense punishable by death. In 2010, four Japanese were executed in China for stimulant drug smuggling.

Amnesty International estimates that China executed thousands of people in 2013 under the death penalty, more than any other country in the world. China does not disclose how many executions it carries out each year.

A court in Dalian in northeastern China conveyed the information on the latest execution to the Japanese consular office in the city, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Source: Kyodo News International, July 25, 2014

Experts decry 'failed experiment' with new death penalty drug combinations

Leading experts on the use of medical drugs in capital punishment have accused death penalty states of conducting a “failed experiment” with new drug combinations following a recent run of drawn-out executions in which prisoners have shown signs of distress on the gurney.

“There have been two executions using midazolam and hydromorphone, and both have led to problems. That indicates that it's possible that the combination doesn't work. These are failed experiments with this drug combination,” said David Waisel, associate professor of anaesthesia at Harvard medical school who has acted as an expert defence witness in many capital cases. “Given the two recent events it seems irresponsible to continue trying this combination.”

Mark Heath, a Columbia University anaesthesiologist in New York, and also a lethal injection expert, pointed out that of the 12 executions in which midazolam has been deployed, “four did not really go as you'd expect or want”. He said: "The common theme is that in all of them the prisoner seems to go to sleep but keeps moving or breathing for long after you'd expect that to happen.” He added that the use of midazolam was “at this point clearly a failed experiment”.

It took so long for Wood to die on Wednesday that his lawyers even tried, one hour into the procedure, to persuade a judge to order it be stopped and Wood resuscitated. The transcript of the phone conversation between Wood's lawyer, a federal judge and Arizona state officials revealed both the primitive medical set-up inside the death chamber and the ignorance of officials about basic medical matters.

Jeffrey Zick, a lawyer with the Arizona attorney general's office, told Judge Neil Wake that “Mr Wood is effectively brain dead.” Asked by the judge whether the prisoner had probes attached to his head to prove that he was brain dead, Zick said no, but insisted that a medically trained individual had observed Wood to be in that condition.

But Waisel, the Harvard professor, told the Guardian that someone who is brain dead will stop breathing unless kept alive on a ventilator. “There is no way anyone could ever look at someone and make that kind of diagnosis. He was still breathing, so he was not brain dead. This is an example where they threw out a term that has a precise medical definition, but they didn't know what it means.”

Other independent experts agreed. “If you are taking breaths, you are not brain dead. Period,” said Dr Chitra Venkat, clinical associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University. “That is not compatible with brain death, at all. In fact, it is not compatible with any form of death.”


Source: The Guardian, July 25, 2014

After troubled execution in Arizona, Ohio to use same drugs, dosage

Despite problems that plagued an Arizona execution, Ohio officials plan to use the same drugs in the same quantity during Ronald Phillips’ execution scheduled for Sept. 18.

Capital punishment in Ohio has been on hold for two months because of an order by U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost in a lethal-injection case. Frost’s order expires on Aug. 15. Barring further legal action, the execution will proceed for Phillips, a Summit County child-killer who already has had two reprieves.

However, the troubled execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona on Wednesday turned up the heat on a death-penalty debate that began on Jan. 16 when Ohio executed Dennis McGuire using a then-untested chemical combination.

While prison officials concluded that McGuire, 53, did not feel “pain or distress” during his execution, witnesses observed that he repeatedly gasped, choked, clenched his fists and appeared to struggle against his restraints for more than 10 minutes after the administration of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller. McGuire was executed for the murder of 22-year-old Joy Stewart in 1989.

It was the first time that those drugs were used in an execution in the United States.

Ohio officials said the dosage for the next execution will be 50 milligrams of midazolam, up from 10 milligrams, and 50 milligrams of hydromorphone, up from 40 milligrams. That is the same quantity used in Wood’s execution. Ohio will have a third syringe ready containing 60 milligrams of hydromorphone; other syringes will be prepared and available “if needed.”

Phillips, 40, was scheduled to be put to death last Nov. 14, but Gov. John Kasich postponed his execution by seven months to give the inmate the opportunity to make good on his desire to donate a kidneyto his ailing mother. Time ran out before arrangements could be finalized, and Phillips was scheduled to die on July 2. That date was postponed by Frost’s order.


Source: The Colombus Dispatch, July 25, 2014

Executed Killer Joseph Wood Died In Middle of Emergency Hearing

An Arizona judge was in the middle of an emergency telephone hearing on the execution of Joseph Wood when word came that the inmate had finally died after more than an hour of what witnesses have described as gasping.

A transcript of the hearing shows that 45 minutes after defense lawyers filed a motion asking that Wood's execution be stopped because he was still alive, no decision had been made.

The parties — U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, a lawyer from the state attorney general's office, and Wood's attorney — were discussing whether stopping the execution would cause pain when the question became moot.

"I just learned that the IV team leader has confirmed Mr. Wood's death," said Jeff Zick, an attorney for the state.

The process took nearly two hours, with a member of the medical team checking eight times to see if the double-murderer was still alive, state officials said.

Midway through the execution, Wood's legal team filed for an emergency stay of execution and asked the court to order prison officials to try to resuscitate him.

The judge was summoned from a meeting, and Wood's lawyer Robin Konrad told him by phone that since her client had been sedated at 1:57 p.m., "he has been gasping, snorting, and unable to breathe and not dying."


Source: NBC News, July 24, 2014


Arizona lawyers appeal for emergency stay during two-hour execution – read the court transcript

Transcript of the frantic telephone court session that took place during the execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona on Wednesday. Wood's execution lasted for so long that lawyers filed a motion for an emergency stay some 90 minutes into the botched procedure. Wood died while the court hearing was still ongoing.

Click here to read the court transcript

Source: The Guardian, July 24, 2014

Two-hour long executions might not affect public opinion on the death penalty

Public support for the death penalty in the United States has declined, but it remains strong, with at least 60 percent of respondents in surveys saying that they favor capital punishment. Whether the public would support the kind of execution that the state of Arizona administered on Wednesday, in which a convicted murderer took two hours to die after a lethal injection, is another question, one that pollsters can't yet answer.

A poll conducted by CBS News found that support for capital punishment had declined by 5 percentage points between last year and this May. Polls conducted by Gallup and The Washington Post-ABC News found no change in public attitudes.

Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport said he doubted that prolonged executions would alter public opinion. When supporters of the death penalty are asked why they are in favor, they tend to say condemned prisoners must pay for their crimes. "The fact that the killer suffered for one or two hours more at the end may not affect those underlying attitudes," Newport said. "That's the whole idea."


Source: The Washington Post, Wonkblog, Max Ehrenfreud, July 24, 2014

A Prolonged Execution in Arizona Leads to a Temporary Halt

Joseph Wood
PHOENIX — The Arizona attorney general on Thursday called a temporary halt to executions in the state, a day after the convicted killer Joseph R. Wood III died one hour and 57 minutes after his execution began. Death penalty experts said it was one of the longest times it has taken in the United States for drugs to kill a condemned man.

But Charles L. Ryan, the director of the state’s Department of Corrections rejected the notion that the execution was botched, despite the fact that the procedure of death by lethal injection usually takes about 15 minutes. He said in a statement that an autopsy by the Pima County medical examiner, concluded on Thursday, found that the intravenous lines were “perfectly placed,” “the catheters in each arm were completely within the veins” and “there was no leakage of any kind.”

“I am committed to a thorough, transparent and comprehensive review process,” Mr. Ryan said.

The execution of Mr. Wood was, by all accounts, an unusual one: Once a vein had been tapped, it took one hour and 52 minutes for the drugs pumped into him to do their work; the process dragged on long enough for Mr. Wood’s lawyers to file an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to stop the execution.


Source: The New York Times, Fernanda Santos, John Scwartz, July 24, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

10 prisoners including 4 women hanged in eastern Iran

The Iranian regime's henchmen hanged at least 10 prisoners including 4 women last Sunday and Monday.

The reports from Iran say on Sunday a group of 4 men and 4 women were hanged in the main prison in the city of Birjand (eastern Iran).

Another 2 prisoners were hanged on Monday in the same prison. All prisoners had been arrested on drug related charges.

During the last 12 month of Hassan Rouhani's 'moderate' presidency, an estimated 800 prisoners have been executed, many hanged in public.

Source: NCRI, July 23, 2014

Sudanese woman spared death for apostasy arrives in Rome

Mariam Ibrahim and her two children land in Rome, Italy.
A Sudanese woman who was spared a death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity and then barred from leaving Sudan flew into Rome today on an Italian government plane, officials said.

Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, whose sentence and detention triggered international outrage, arrived at Rome’s Ciampino airport with her family and Italy’s vice minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli, television pictures showed.

There were no details on what led up to the 27-year-old’s departure from Khartoum, and there was no immediate comment from the Sudanese authorities.

Ms Ibrahim was sentenced to death by a Sudanese court in May on charges of converting from Islam to Christianity and marrying a Christian South Sudanese-American.

The conviction was quashed last month, but Sudan’s government accused her of trying to leave the country with falsified papers, preventing her departure for the United States with her American-South Sudanese husband and two children.

Her lawyer Mohaned Mostafa said he had not been told of her departure.

“I don’t know anything about such news but so far the complaint that was filed against Mariam and which prevents her from travelling from Sudan has not been cancelled,” Mr Mostafa told Reuters.

Ms Ibrahim says she was born and raised as a Christian by an Ethiopian family in Sudan and later abducted by a Sudanese Muslim family.

The Muslim family denies that and filed a lawsuit to have her marriage annulled last week in a new attempt to stop her leaving the country. That case was later dropped.

Prime minister Renzi mentioned Ms Ibrahim’s case in his speech to inaugurate Italy’s six-month European Union presidency earlier this month.

“If there is no European reaction we cannot feel worthy to call ourselves ‘Europe’,” Mr Renzi said.

Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian men under the brand of Islamic law enforced in Sudan.
Ms Ibrahim, her husband and children had been staying at the US Embassy in Khartoum.

Source: Reuters, July 24, 2014


Pope Meets Christian Sentenced to Death for Faith

Pope Francis met privately Thursday with a Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith in the face of a death sentence, blessing the woman as she cradled her infant born just weeks ago in prison.

The Vatican characterized the visit with Meriam Ibrahim, 27, her husband and their two small children as "very affectionate."

The 30-minute encounter took place just hours after the family landed at Rome's Ciampino airport, accompanied by an Italian diplomat who helped negotiate her release, and welcomed by Italy's premier, who hailed it as a "day of celebration."

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the pope "thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity" during the half-hour meeting Thursday. Francis frequently calls attention to the suffering of those persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Lombardi said the presence of "their wonderful small children" added to the affectionate tone of the meeting. Ibrahim was presented with a rosary, a gift from the pope.

Ibrahim held her sleeping infant as she stepped off the plane from Sudan, which had blocked her from leaving the country even after the country's highest court overturned her death sentence in June. An Italian diplomat carried her 18-month-old son and they were followed by her husband, Daniel Wani, who is a citizen of the United States and South Sudan.

Ibrahim and her family are expected to spend a few days in Rome before heading to the United States.

Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. She married her husband, a Christian, in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith.

The sentence was condemned by the United States, the United Nations and Amnesty International, among others, and both the United States and Italy — a strong death penalty opponent with long ties to the Horn of Africa region — worked to win her release.

Sudan's high court threw out her death sentence in June, but she was then blocked from leaving the country by authorities who questioned the validity of her travel documents.

Lapo Pistelli, an Italian diplomat who accompanied the family from Sudan, said Italy was able to leverage its ties within the region. "We had the patience to speak to everyone in a friendly way. This paid off in the end," he said.

Source: AP, July 24, 2014

Arizona botches Joseph Wood's execution

Joseph Wood
A convicted killer gasped on the gurney for more than an hour as the state of Arizona attempted to execute him on Wednesday, before being declared dead almost two hours after the process began.

Attorneys for Joseph Wood attempted to halt the execution in an emergency court motion, saying he had been "gasping and snoring for more than an hour". The state attorney general announced that Wood had died before the court could rule on the motion

The developments echoed the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed and groaned on a gurney for nearly 45 minutes before eventually dying of a heart attack.

"We respectfully request that this court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol," the laywers said.

"He is still alive. This execution has violated Mr Wood’s eighth amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment," the court filing said.

The hours leading up to the execution were marked by a frenzied legal battle over the secrecy imposed by state officials on the source of the drugs. It was put on hold several times – first by a federal appeals court, then by the state supreme court of Arizona – only to have the stays lifted and the procedure go ahead.

Even the US supreme court was asked to intervene, but on Tuesday night declined to do so without giving an explanation for its decision.

Source: The Guardian, July 23, 2014


Arizona inmate takes two hours to die in botched execution using experimental two-drug cocktail

The state of Arizona today took one hour and 57 minutes to kill a prisoner in a botched execution, which was carried out using the same combination of drugs as those used in the botched execution of an Ohio prisoner earlier this year.

Joseph Wood, 55, was eventually pronounced dead at 3.49pm local time after he had been seen ‘gasping and snorting’ over an hour into his execution, according to an emergency stay filed mid-execution by his lawyers as they saw what was happening.

Wood was executed using the drugs Midazolam and Hydromorphone, a combination that has been used only once before in an execution that also went badly wrong in Ohio in January. Dennis McGuire was seen struggling and gasping for breath during an execution that took over 25 minutes.

The botched execution of Wood follows that of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in April. Both states insisted on conducting the executions behind a veil of secrecy, refusing to name the manufacturers of the drugs or provide critical details which could have helped assure their quality.

Like Lockett, Wood had received a stay just moments prior to the execution so that the court could consider the issue of the experimental drugs. However that stay was then lifted and Wood’s execution began at 1.52pm local time.

There are just a handful of manufacturers of both Midazolam and Hydromorphone which do not yet have comprehensive distribution controls in place to ensure their medicines are used to improve and save the lives of patients, and are not sold to prisons to end the lives of prisoners in potentially torturous executions. International human rights NGO Reprieve has worked extensively with pharmaceutical companies, the majority of which have taken steps to protect their medicines from abuse in executions like this one.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said: “The State of Arizona had every reason to believe that this procedure would not go smoothly; the experimental execution ‘cocktail’ had only been used once before, and that execution too was terribly botched. Despite the evidence, the state pushed ahead, jettisoning due process and cloaking the procedure in secrecy. The result was an exercise in torture. No one in the medical profession or industry wants anything to do with executions. Manufacturers and medics have long protested the abuse of medicines (which are designed to save lives) in executions designed to end them. How many more botched executions must we witness before states finally take heed?”

Source: Reprieve, July 23, 2014


Lawyers demand outside probe of two-hour Arizona execution

(Reuters) - Lawyers for a convicted double-murderer whose lethal injection in Arizona dragged on for two hours, while witnesses watched him gasping for breath and attorneys scrambled to halt the process, have called for an outside review of the "horrifically botched execution."

The ordeal in putting Joseph Wood to death on Wednesday at a prison facility southeast of Phoenix marked the third instance this year of a lethal injection gone awry, after mishaps in Ohio and Oklahoma that renewed the U.S. debate over capital punishment.

"He gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and 40 minutes," said Dale Baich, one of Wood's lawyers, who watched the execution and tried in vain to stop it. He called for an independent inquiry.

An Arizona Republic journalist who witnessed the event said he counted Wood gasping for air about 660 times before the 55-year-old inmate fell silent.

During that time, defense attorneys took the extraordinary step of filing emergency court petitions seeking to cut short the procedure and resuscitate their client, arguing Wood was being subjected to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

But U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the appeal, and Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m. local time, one hour and 57 minutes after the execution had officially begun.

State Corrections Director Charles Ryan disputed suggestions that Wood had suffered, saying in a statement that once sedated - five minutes into the procedure - the inmate "did not grimace or make any further movement."

Ryan characterized Wood's breathing as "sonorous respiration, or snoring," and said execution team members with whom he conferred during the process assured him "unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress."

He added that the time it takes to complete an execution varies for each individual.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Reuters, David Schwartz, July 24, 2014


Reporter describes gruesome scene of Ariz. execution

Arizona Death Chamber
FLORENCE, Ariz. — The first glimpse was from above, framed by two closed-circuit TVs.

Joseph Rudolph Wood was strapped to a gurney in an orange jumpsuit as prison medical staff prepared to set intravenous lines in his arms.

It was 1:30 in the afternoon at Housing Unit 9, the small, one-story, free-standing stucco building where executions are carried out at the Arizona Prison Complex-Florence. The viewing room is 15 feet by 12 feet, painted in calming tones of blue, with three rows of risers that climb from the big window that looks into the lethal-injection chamber in front to the bay windows of the gas chamber behind.

Federal law requires that witnesses to executions see every phase, including the setting of IV lines. But in Arizona, it's done on camera.

Wood's eyes flitted back and forth, and his eyebrows arched as men in scrubs, their faces out of camera range, fussed with blood-pressure cuffs and trays of IV needles. The lines went in easily. They don't usually; Arizona is one of three states that will surgically cut a catheter into a condemned man's groin after failing to find veins in the arms or hands, a process used in nine of the past 14 executions.

Then, the curtains opened.

According to Arizona Republic reporter Michael Kiefer, Wood was unconscious by 1:57 p.m.. At about 2:05, he started gasping.

Then at 2:05, Wood's mouth opened. Three minutes later it opened again, and his chest moved as if he had burped. Then two minutes again, and again, the mouth open wider and wider. Then it didn't stop.

He gulped like a fish on land. The movement was like a piston: The mouth opened, the chest rose, the stomach convulsed. And when the doctor came in to check on his consciousness and turned on the microphone to announce that Wood was still sedated, we could hear the sound he was making: a snoring, sucking, similar to when a swimming-pool filter starts taking in air, a louder noise than I can imitate, though I have tried.

It was death by apnea. And it went on for an hour and a half. I made a pencil stroke on a pad of paper, each time his mouth opened, and ticked off more than 640, which was not all of them, because the doctor came in at least four times and blocked my view.

I turned to my friend Troy Hayden, the anchor and reporter from Fox 10 News, who was sitting next to me. Troy and I witnessed another execution together in 2007, and he had seen one before that, so he also knows what it looks like.

"I don't think he's going to die," I said.

Click here to read the full article

Source: USA Today, Michael Kiefer, The Arizona Republic, July 24, 2014


Witness to a 2-hour Arizona execution: Joseph Wood's final 117 minutes

Inside the chamber, I counted 660 gulps. The priest's watch counted 117 minutes. The death penalty was not supposed to go like this.

You want to be prepared to watch a man who has been prepared to die. Wednesday afternoon was scheduled to be the state of Arizona's first time using this particular combination of lethal-injection drugs. But this was also my first time witnessing a state execution, so I made sure the state prison staff here had a notepad ready, and I asked my colleagues what it was supposed to be like.

It's all very clinical, I was told. The end of death row usually lasts about 10 minutes.

This was not what I saw inside the execution chamber when Joseph Wood died. That took 117 minutes, and it was clear that nothing was as it was supposed to be.

After going through prison security, and waiting for hours because of a last-minute appeal to the Arizona supreme court, prison staff escorted us – just a handful of witnesses – across the vast yard and into the small place where a killer was about to be killed. The family of Debra and Eugene Dietz, whom Wood brutally shot and killed at a Tucson autobody shop in 1989, followed. We were all seated under televisions, with images of Wood strapped to the gurney above.

The curtains opened. The medical staff checked the man's veins. He said his last words – "God forgive you all" – and the lethal drugs began to flow, at 1.52pm. James Wood appeared to fall asleep, albeit strapped down to a table, and he looked straight ahead at the wall. The first 10 minutes went according to plan.

Then, a hard gulp. I looked over to my left: the priest praying the rosary. To my right: the family watching on. Then dead ahead: the side of Wood's stomach appeared to move, even after the Arizona state prison's medical staff had announced he was sedated.

I saw a man who was supposed to be dead, coughing – or choking, possibly even gasping for air.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Guardian, Mauricio Marin, July 24, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vietnam executes three, including high-profile killer Nguyen Duc Nghia

The Hai Phong man who outraged the nation by killing and dismembering an ex-girlfriend was executed by lethal injection on Tuesday night, despite his pleas for mercy.

Nguyen Duc Nghia received the shot from the execution council of the Supreme People’s Court.

In July 2010, a Hanoi court sentenced him to death for the murder and robbery of his ex-girlfriend, Nguyen Phuong Linh.

The court found the 30-year-old guilty of killing Linh on May 4, 2010 in Hanoi, then cutting off her head and fingers and dumping them in a river around 90 kilometers away in Quang Ninh Province.

Nghia was watching his new girlfriend’s apartment while she was out of town when he called Linh, his one-year college lover, to come over.

After they made love, he stabbed Linh to death, wrapped her torso in a blanket and stashed it on the building’s rooftop.

He pawned her motorbike, laptop and mobile phone for VND5 million (US$240).

He was arrested on May 22, 2010 while hiding out in Thai Nguyen Province, one day after police discovered Linh’s naked, rotting body.

Nghia filed an appeal in November 2010 arguing that he did not kill Linh to rob her, but the supreme court upheld his capital sentence.

He sent a letter to President Truong Tan Sang four days later asking for a pardon but his request was rejected.

Hanoi Moi newspaper said two other convicts were also executed on the same day. The executions took place between 5-7:30pm.

Starting in late 2011, Vietnam officially switched from dispatching convicts with firing squads to lethal injections. An EU ban on exports of the lethal cocktail to Vietnam caused a lengthy backlog and drove many convicts to insanity and suicide--until Vietnam began manufacturing its own lethal serum. 

Source: Thanh Nien News, July 23, 2014

FBI malfeasance undercuts death penalty

The death penalty’s flaws have been well-documented. But a new report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General reveals some of the most troubling evidence yet, and provides a fresh reminder of why North Carolina and other states will forever be on shaky ground until they abolish it.

The FBI used flawed forensic evidence and overstated testimony by 13 lab examiners to help convict up to 64 murder suspects and put them on death row, the report said. Yet Justice and the FBI took five years to identify those suspects and delayed telling state prosecutors that it was reviewing the cases, so the states had no way of knowing that the convictions might be flawed.

At least three men were executed before a Justice Department task force fully reviewed those cases. In at least one, the defendant would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, the report said. (The Justice Department generally agreed with the report’s findings.)

Among the 64 on death row with questionable cases were two from South Carolina: Donald Gaskins was executed in 1991 and Leroy Drayton was executed in 1999. In addition, 17 Carolinas cases were among 402 in which defendants were convicted on evidence so problematic that the task force ordered an independent scientific review of the FBI examiners’ work. The report was able to confirm that prosecutors revealed the findings to only 15 of the 402.


Source: The Charlotte Observer, July 23, 2014