Editorial: In a civilized society, not even the most vicious crimes justify a death sentence

It is soul-bruising to contemplate the torture that 10-year-old Anthony Avalos endured in his Lancaster home for more than a week before dying last year. Whippings with a looped cord and belt. Repeatedly held upside down then dropped on his head. Getting slammed into pieces of furniture and against the floor. Hot sauce poured on his face and mouth.
The road map of the abuse stretched from head to toe on his small malnourished body — bruises, abrasions, scabs and cuts visible on the outside. Traumatic brain injury and soft tissue damage on the inside. All allegedly perpetrated by his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva.
RELATED | California: Prosecutors seeking death penalty in Anthony Avalos torture case
If ever a set of circumstances called for the death penalty, this would be it. Few were surprised when Los Angeles County prosecutors said Wednesday that if the couple is convicted of the torture-murder, the jury will be asked to recommend a death sentence.
Such ca…

Oklahoma halts executions until 2016 as drug mix-up investigation continues

Oklahoma’s attorney general has agreed to not request execution dates until 2016, as his office investigates why the state used the wrong drug to execute an inmate in January, according to court documents filed on Friday.

Attorney general Scott Pruitt and lawyers representing death row inmates filed a joint request asking a federal judge to suspend proceedings in a lawsuit that challenges Oklahoma’s lethal injection law. Both sides said the case should be put on hold as Pruitt’s office investigates how the state twice got the wrong drug to use in executions.

Governor Mary Fallin called off the execution of inmate Richard Glossip just hours before his lethal injection was scheduled to begin on 30 September, after prison officials said they received potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, which is the specified final drug in Oklahoma’s three-drug lethal injection protocol.

A week later, a newly released autopsy report showed that Oklahoma actually used potassium acetate to execute Charles Warner in January, contradicting what the state publicly said it had used in the lethal injection. Warner had originally been scheduled for execution in April 2014 – the same night as Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, moaned and pulled up from his restraints before dying 43 minutes after his initial injection.

The Oklahoma court of criminal appeals has issued indefinite stays for Glossip and two other inmates who had been set for execution this year.

Friday’s court filing said Pruitt will not request any execution dates until at least 150 days after his investigation is complete, the results are made public, and his office receives notice that the prisons department can comply with the state’s execution protocol.

A federal judge still needs to sign off on the request.

The autopsy report prepared after Warner’s execution on 15 January describes the instruments of death in detail. It says the office of the chief medical examiner received two syringes labeled “potassium chloride”, but that the vials used to fill the syringes were labeled “single dose Potassium Acetate Injection”.

That contradicts the official execution log, initialed by a prison staffer, which said the state properly used potassium chloride to stop his heart, according to a copy obtained by the Associated Press.

The next inmate scheduled to die was Glossip, who came within hours of his lethal injections before prison officials informed the governor that they had received potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride from a pharmacist, whose identity is shielded by state law. That discovery prompted new questions about past executions, including Warner’s.

Prison authorities discovered the error as they prepared for Glossip’s execution and immediately contacted the supplier, “whose professional opinion was that potassium acetate is medically interchangeable with potassium chloride at the same quantity”, according to Oklahoma’s prisons director, Robert Patton.

But experts on pharmaceuticals and chemistry told the AP that differences between the two forms could be relevant, including that potassium chloride is more quickly absorbed by the body and that more potassium acetate may be needed to achieve the same effect.

Source: The Guardian, October 17, 2015

All executions may be put on hold until 2016, court documents show

Attorneys for death row inmates and the attorney general's office jointly filed a motion in federal court Friday requesting that executions and a legal challenge to the state's death penalty be put on hold.

State executions are on hold until at least early next year, a judge ruled Friday.

Attorneys for death row inmates and the Oklahoma attorney general's office jointly filed a motion in federal court early Friday morning requesting that executions and a legal challenge to the state's death penalty be put on hold.

All of Oklahoma's scheduled executions were put on hold last month after the execution of inmate Richard Glossip was halted when corrections officials noticed they'd received the wrong drug for the procedure.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the indefinite stay made it unnecessary to litigate challenges to the state's execution protocol brought by Glossip's attorneys.

"As I have previously stated, my office is conducting a full and thorough investigation into all aspects of the Department of Corrections' handling of executions," Pruitt said. "The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted the state's request for an indefinite stay of all scheduled executions. My office does not plan to ask the court to set an execution date until the conclusion of its investigation."

In the filing, both parties agreed the state should not seek any new execution dates until all ongoing federal and state investigations into Oklahoma's death penalty have been completed, any investigations and changes to protocol are made available to the extent they are public, and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is able to comply with its execution protocol.

A multicounty grand jury will hear testimony on Tuesday from Corrections Department Director Robert Patton and other officials as part of a state investigation, and the attorney general's office is conducting an internal inquiry into recent lethal drug mix-ups.

The attorney general's office also agreed to not seek an execution date until after those stipulations are met. At that point, the public defenders representing Oklahoma's death row inmates could reopen their federal challenge to the state's method of execution.

Given that the grand jury investigation could take months, it is likely the state will not conduct an execution for more than a year. That's if the state is able to acquire the drugs necessary to perform another lethal injection.

Oklahoma has run into a series of problems in recent years with its lethal injection process. In 2014, outdated protocol and a lack of basic equipment led to the controversial 43-minute execution of Clayton Lockett, the first inmate in Oklahoma to be executed using the sedative midazolam.

Midazolam came under fire across the country when it was used in a string of problematic lethal injections that year.

Protesting Richard's Glossip's execution
Protesting Richard's Glossip's execution
Glossip's execution has been stayed 4 times, the most recent on Sept. 30, when Gov. Mary Fallin postponed his death sentence when it was discovered 2 hours before the procedure that the state Corrections Department had received the wrong combination of lethal drugs. The state needed potassium chloride but was provided with potassium acetate, a drug not authorized for executions in Oklahoma.

This month, documents provided to The Oklahoman revealed the state executed Charles Warner in January using potassium acetate.

The state Corrections Department says it is still searching for pentobarbital, the drug preferred by state corrections departments for lethal injections. That drug has become increasingly difficult for those departments to acquire since its maker restricted its use in capital punishment, and pharmacies that can make it have come under public scrutiny.

State Corrections Department spokeswoman Terri Watkins said given the ongoing inquiries, she was unable to comment on whether the state is searching for either midazolam or potassium chloride.

Source: The Oklahoman, Octover 17, 2015

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