U.S. | Execution by nitrogen hypoxia doesn’t seem headed for widespread adoption as bills fall short and nitrogen producers object

The day after Alabama carried out the first-known US execution using nitrogen gas, its attorney general sent a clear message to death penalty states that might want to follow suit: “Alabama has done it, and now so can you.” Indeed, in the weeks immediately following the January execution of Kenneth Smith, it appeared a handful of states were listening, introducing bills that would adopt the method known as nitrogen hypoxia or a similar one. Officials behind each framed the legislation as an alternative method that could help resume executions where they had long been stalled.

Virginia executes Edward Bell

Edward Nathaniel Bell
Edward Nathaniel Bell
Edward Nathaniel Bell was executed by injection tonight for the Oct. 29, 1999, slaying of a Winchester police officer.

Bell maintained his innocence to the end.

According to Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Jamaican national said: "To the Timbrook family, you definitely have the wrong person. The truth will come out one day. This here -- killing me -- there's no justice about it."

Traylor said it was difficult to understand him because of his accent.

Bell was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m., said Traylor.

Bell, 43, was sentenced to die for the murder of Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook, 32, who was shot once in the head from close range while chasing Bell on foot. Bell was on probation, and the two had earlier run-ins.

The killer's last hope was Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who personally opposes the death penalty. But in a statement released about 4 p.m. today, Kaine declined to interfere.

"Bell's trial, verdict and sentence have been reviewed by state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court of Virginia, United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court," Kaine noted.

He said that "having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency and judicial opinions regarding this case, I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was recommended by the jury, and then imposed and affirmed by the courts."

Timbrook's wife, Kelly, was pregnant with their first child when Timbrook was slain. In 2005 she appeared in a television campaign ad on behalf of Kaine's Republican opponent for governor, former Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore.

According to news accounts, family members said Kelly Timbrook was to have been among the witnesses to Bell's execution. The Department of Corrections does not disclose the identity of victim family witnesses, but it confirmed that some witnessed the execution.

In a 41-page clemency petition to Kaine, Bell's lawyers pointed out that a federal judge found that Bell's trial lawyers did not perform up to constitutional snuff during the sentencing phase of Bell's trial.

"The case of Eddie Bell is not one which possesses the certainty and integrity to justify the imposition of the ultimate penalty. Confidence in the justice system requires that both sides in a trial advocate for their side, but here the adversary system broke down," his lawyers wrote.

They contend that Bell's IQ was measured at 68 and that he functions at an intellectual level below 95% of the population.

His lawyers also told Kaine that no court ever heard new evidence that cast doubt on Bell's guilt or that he was mentally disabled and, therefore, ineligible for the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court has banned the execution of people who are mentally disabled.

Since taking office, Kaine has allowed 9 executions to be carried out and commuted one death sentence. He briefly stayed Bell's execution last year while the U.S. Supreme Court took up the legality of lethal injection.

Traylor said Bell spent part of today visiting with immediate family members. He did not order a special meal, Traylor said.

Bell becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Virginia and the 103rd overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982. Since the death penalty was re-legalized in the USA on July 2, 1976, only Texas has carried out more executions (423) than Virginia.

Bell becomes the 14th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1149th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Rick Halperin, Feb. 20, 2009

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