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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

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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