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As Trial in South Carolina Execution-Method Challenge Begins, Review of State’s Death Penalty Reveals System that is Biased, Arbitrary, and Error-Prone

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As the trial challenging South Carolina’s execution methods began on August 1, 2022, a review of the state’s death penalty by the Greenville News revealed a pattern of discrimination, geographic arbitrariness, and high error rates in the implementation of the punishment.  In a two-part examination, reporter Kathryn Casteel analyzed racial and county demographics on death row, reversal rates in capital cases, and the timing of death sentences to provide context for the state’s efforts to institute the electric chair and firing squad as its primary execution methods. RELATED |  Future of South Carolina death penalty now rests with judge Four of South Carolina’s 35 death-row prisoners are suing the state to block a law that would force them to choose between electrocution and firing squad as methods of execution. One of the men, Richard Moore, wrote in an April legal filing, “I believe this election is forcing me to choose between two unconstitutional methods of execution.” Executions ar

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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