Texas: Gov. Abbott should grant death row inmate Rodney Reed a reprieve, before it’s too late

Convicted murderer Rodney Reed is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 20, but Gov. Greg Abbott has the power to stop it.
As it stands, there’s no indication that Abbott will. He has only stopped one execution since becoming governor 5 years ago.
Reed was sentenced to death in 1998, after being convicted of the brutal 1996 rape and killing of a 19-year-old woman from central Texas, Stacey Stites. And though the governor has yet to weigh in on this specific case, he supports capital punishment, as do most voters in the state. According to a June 2018 poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, fully three-fourths of Texans strongly or somewhat support the death penalty.
But the question at hand has nothing to do with the death penalty, per se. Granting a reprieve would simply be the right thing to do — and a necessary precaution against the doubts that would linger, if Reed is executed as scheduled.
Reed has consistently maintained his innocence, and legitimate questions …

Oklahoma executes Charles Warner

Charles Warner
Oklahoma has executed Charles Warner at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on Thursday for the 1997 rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl. He was pronounced dead at 7:28 p.m.

Warner's execution was the state’s first execution since its botched lethal injection of another inmate in April 2014.

Warner’s lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution, citing experimental lethal injection protocols and bungled executions using the drug midazolam. 

The Supreme Court ruled Warner’s execution was to proceed, with Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan dissenting. 

In dissent, Sotomayor said she was "deeply troubled" by evidence about midazolam's unreliablity. "I find the District Court's conclusion that midazolam will in fact work as intended difficult to accept," she said.

Warner's attorneys have asked the Department of Corrections to preserve all evidence of Warner’s execution, from the time he enters the execution chamber until his body is released to the medical examiner. The evidence they are requesting includes medical documents, biological evidence, execution equipment and drugs as well as all emails and text messages of DOC personnel relating to the execution.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday denied Warner’s request to stay his execution.

The three-judge panel, in denying the request of Warner and three other death row inmates, added that no judge on the court wished for further review of the matter — meaning that Warner’s next step is to seek a stay from the Supreme Court.

Warner had been scheduled to be executed on April 29, 2014, the same day as Clayton Lockett. However, Warner’s execution was postponed when Lockett died of a massive heart attack during a prolonged lethal injection using an untested three-drug combination, prompting the governor to temporarily halt executions and order a review of the state’s execution procedures.

The Department of Corrections released a new protocol in September that allowed the state to continue using a controversial sedative — midazolam — which was used in problematic executions including Lockett’s and two others in Ohio and Arizona.

The revised procedure called for using five times the amount of midazolam that was used in Lockett’s execution. The previous protocol used 100 milligrams, which was increased to 500 milligrams.

On Jan. 8, four Oklahoma inmates, including Warner, filed a motion to stay their executions in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, citing problematic executions using midazolam, which they argued is an unreliable drug “to assure that a deep, comalike unconsciousness” required for a constitutional execution is achieved. The motion was denied Monday.

Dale Baich, one of Warner’s attorneys, said in a statement that they will appeal to the Supreme Court to prevent the executions from going forward.

“We know that midazolam does not satisfy the constitutional requirement of preventing cruel and unusual suffering and that it does not reliably anesthetize prisoners during executions,” Baich said. “We know this because of Clayton Lockett’s execution, where he struggled for over 30 minutes; and because of Dennis McGuire’s execution, where he made snorting noises for more than twenty minutes; and because of Joseph Wood’s execution, where he gulped and gasped for almost two hours.”

The appeal states that Oklahoma rushed to choose it “under time and political pressure” as a replacement for the sedative pentobarbital “despite uncontroverted evidence that the botched execution of Clayton Lockett proved that midazolam did not maintain him in a state of unconsciousness” when the other two drugs — vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — were injected.

The inmates claim that the use of midazolam creates a risk of serious harm to them and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment, which protects them from cruel and unusual punishment.

The appeal cites two experts who express concern that administering a paralytic drug to prisoners after sedating them with midazolam will make it impossible for the execution team members and witnesses to know if the prisoners regain consciousness and suffer during the execution.

Lawyers for the inmates argued that it was only after a flawed IV placement caused the paralytic drug to fail in Lockett’s execution that he regained consciousness and was seen writhing, moaning, and clenching his teeth.

“The staff at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has trained very, very hard, and I’m very confident in their abilities,” Patton told the Board of Corrections Thursday. He did not comment further because of the pending legal challenge against the new execution protocols.

Apart from increasing the dosage of midazolam, the state’s new procedures called for more training protocols and sessions for the execution team members and prison staff, backup lethal drugs and contingency plans in case of problematic executions.

The protocol states that the director will request that the governor postpone the execution after an “hour of unsuccessful IV attempts.”

The revised protocol also cuts down the media witnesses from twelve to five.

Warner was convicted of brutally raping and murdering Adrianna Waller, the 11-month-old daughter of Sharon Waller who lived with Warner and his two children. The medical examiner had ruled her death as homicide caused by multiple injuries to her head, chest, and abdomen.

Shonda Waller, the girl's mother, told defense lawyers in a videotaped statement that a lethal injection for Warner — the first in the state since a bungled procedure nine months ago — would be a "dishonor" to her daughter Adrianna's name and against her religious beliefs.

"I don't see any justice in just sentencing someone to die," Waller said. "To me, the justice is in someone living with what they have done to you, your family, and having to live with that for the rest of their life knowing they will never walk out those bars."

The statement made last January was played for Oklahoma's parole board in March when Warner was up for clemency. The panel voted not to give him a reprieve and he was scheduled to die April 29. He was waiting to be escorted to the death chamber when an earlier execution that same night was so badly botched it sparked global outrage.

Warner becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death in Oklahoma this year and the 112th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1990. Only Texas (518) has executed more individuals since the death penalty was re-legalized in the USA on July 2, 1976.

Warner becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1397th overall since executions resumed on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Buzz Feed News, Agencies, Rick Halperin,January 15, 2015

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