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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Virginia Governor Scraps Electric Chair Law

Virginia's electric chair
Virginia's electric chair
The electric chair has already been declared cruel and unusual punishment by two death penalty states.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has killed a bill that would have given the state power to put people to death by electric chair. Instead, he added an amendment permitting the state to hire a pharmacy to secretly make a special batch of lethal injection drugs.

McAuliffe had until midnight Sunday to veto HB 815, which would make it easier for Virginia to execute people with the electric chair if lethal injection drugs become unavailable. The bill would have become effective law on July 1 had he not taken action. The governor had more than a month to consider the bill after state senators approved it.

The legislation is yet another example of the measures some death penalty states are considering as the supply of lethal injection chemicals dwindles - and as legal challenges to the execution method mount.

Drugs used in both single-drug and 3-drug lethal injection protocols have become increasingly hard to find since European manufacturers banned their sale to U.S. executioners, and since domestic producers yanked their supplies from the market.

Religious leaders in Virginia and around the country appealed to McAuliffe to veto the bill, with Regent University professor Antipas Harris told News Channel 3 that "It's just morally wrong, inhumane. We absolutely don't need this in the Commonwealth."

Virginia is currently 1 of 8 states that permits the electric chair to be used as a legal method of execution. All of the states but Tennessee relegate it to a backup method to be used in the event that lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional or if an inmate requests it.

In 2014, Tennessee brought back the electric chair as an option for the state - rather than the inmate - to select. But the state suspended executions within a year due to legal challenges contending that state-sanctioned executions, whether by lethal injection or electric chair, constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

In the past 15 years, state supreme courts in both Georgia and Nebraska have determined the electric chair violates state laws against cruel and unusual punishment.

Virginia state Sen. Scott Surovell (D), who opposed the bill, last month decried the lack of transparency in the state's execution process - which, as in many states, is effectively a secret.

He added, however, that the bill's success would hasten the end of the death penalty in the long run.

"Every court that has looked at [the electric chair] in the past 20 years said, 'We don't do this anymore,'" Surovell told The Huffington Post last month, describing the evolving standards of what's considered cruel and unusual punishment.

"I think the [U.S.] Supreme Court will get rid of the electric chair now that we've teed it up for them," he said, noting that he'd told his colleagues in favor of HB815 that "If you vote 'yes' on this, you're hastening the end of the death penalty."

Since 2000, 6 of Virginia's prisoners executed by the electric chair specifically chose the method, most recently in 2013, according to an analysis by Harvard University's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.

While 31 states still have the death penalty, only 8 states carried out executions in 2015. Some states, like Oklahoma, have approved untested methods of execution like the nitrogen gas chamber.

Source: Huffington Post, April 11, 2016


Virginia governor revives rejected plan to mix execution drugs in secret

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has resurrected a proposal to use secret batches of specially mixed medicines in executions by lethal injection, raising concerns over a lack of transparency.

The proposal would amend a bill to restore the electric chair as a default execution method, which was passed earlier this year by both houses of the state legislature. If accepted, Governor McAuliffe’s proposal would leave the state and its drug suppliers exempt from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.

An almost identical measure was rejected earlier this year by a bipartisan majority of legislators in Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives. To pass, the new proposal will need to gain majority support in a new legislative session, to be held in 9 days’ time.

Courts in Arkansas and Missouri have already struck down similar provisions. Just three weeks ago a Missouri court ruled that the state’s execution drug suppliers could not legally be considered “part of the execution team”, and ordered that the state should disclose records relating to their involvement.

The use of compounded medicines in executions is opposed by both the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists (IACP). In March 2015, members of the APhA said that "such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of healthcare”, while the body's CEO, Thomas E. Menighan, commented that: “Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession’s role".

Virginia conducted an execution last year using drugs that were trafficked from a secret supplier in Texas, contrary to DEA regulations. Texas has since confirmed this was an exceptional agreement, rather than a regular procedure.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director at Reprieve, said: “It’s abundantly clear that no one in the healthcare industry wants anything to do with supplying drugs for executions – regardless of secrecy. Pharmacists, like manufacturers, make medicines to improve and save the lives of patients, not end the lives of prisoners in executions. The American Pharmacists Association and the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, the leading voices for pharmacists around the country, have both spoken out categorically against the misuse of pharmacist-made medicines in executions.

"Secrecy will only make the process less transparent, the government less accountable and executions more dangerous and costly."

  • The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) statement, and that of APhA CEO Thomas E. Menighan, can be seen here.
  • In March 2015, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists released a statement which read: “While the pharmacy profession recognizes an individual practitioner's right to determine whether to dispense a medication based upon his or her personal, ethical and religious beliefs, IACP discourages its members from participating in the preparation, dispensing, or distribution of compounded medications for use in legally authorized executions. The issue of compounded preparations being used in the execution of prisoners sentenced to capital punishment continues to be a topic of significant interest. It is important to first understand the origin of this issue: states are turning to compounded preparations for this purpose because the companies that manufacture the products traditionally used have unilaterally decided to stop selling them for use in executions. IACP believes that a national discussion needs to be conducted on whether a pharmaceutical manufacturer can restrict the use of FDA-approved products only to purposes that adhere to their corporate values. Pharmacy, and compounding in particular, is a profession of healing and care that is focused on individual patients and providing the best and most appropriate medications at all times.
  • Details of Texas' arrangement with Virginia to supply drugs for one execution are available here.

Source: Reprieve, April 11, 2016

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