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“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

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The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Arizona switches drugs used for executions

Arizona Death Chamber
Arizona Death Chamber
The Arizona Attorney General's Office announced this morning that it will change the drugs used to execute persons condemned to death.

The new drugs, a cocktail of a Valium-like drug called Midazolam and a morphine derivative called Hydromorphone, will replace the single barbiturate, pentobarbital, which has become unavailable because its manufacturer does not want it to be used to kill people.

Consequently, commercially manufactured pentobarbital supplies have dried up for corrections departments nationwide, forcing them to change drugs or to have them custom made by "compounding pharmacies."

There are four Arizona death row prisoners whose appeals have run out and who are eligible for execution. But the Attorney General's Office has not asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for those prisoners because there were no drugs available to carry out the executions.

The Midazolam-Hydromorphone combination was used in January to perform an execution in Ohio, but not without problems. According to press accounts of that execution, the condemned man gasped for air and took more than 20 minutes to die. Arizona inmates executed with pentobarbital or an earlier drug, thiopental, which also is unavailable, usually die in about ten minutes.

The Attorney General's press release says Arizona will use a stronger concentration.

The press release also says that it will attempt to use a state statute that shields the identity of executioners to keep from revealing the source of the new drugs. That argument was knocked down in U.S. District Court in Phoenix last October.

In 2010, The Arizona Republic revealed that Arizona and other states were sidestepping federal laws to import the drug thiopental from England. Federal courts ruled that the drug had been illegally brought into the country. European courts also banned export of thiopental and other drugs for executions, which led European pharmaceutical companies to institute distribution controls on the drugs.

At least one American manufacturer of Midazolam and Hydromorphone has already said that it will refuse to sell those drugs for use in executions.

Source: AZ Central, March 26, 2014

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