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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Oklahoma should develop execution protocol for nitrogen gas, AG Scott Pruitt says

Oklahoma should develop execution protocol for nitrogen gas
"A protocol that would use a clinical plastic face mask
connected by tubing to a canister of nitrogen gas."
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma officials would be wise to develop an execution protocol that uses nitrogen gas, Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Tuesday.

Pruitt said states across the nation, including Oklahoma, have found it difficult to obtain drugs to administer lethal injections because manufacturers put restrictions on the use of the drugs.

“It will be a continuing problem,” he said.

As a result, the state should develop a protocol for the use of nitrogen gas, Pruitt said.

In 2015, lawmakers passed and Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 1879 following the state’s use of a new, three-drug protocol in the execution of Clayton Lockett, who spent 43 minutes on the death chamber gurney between the time of the injections and his death. His execution has been called a “procedural disaster.”

Later it was learned that the state had used the wrong drug combination to execute Charles Warner in January 2015. One of the three drugs the state used was potassium acetate, not potassium chloride as called for in the existing protocol.

The execution of Richard Glossip, scheduled for last September, was put on hold after officials discovered that the state had received the same incorrect drug for his lethal injection.

The H.B. 1879 law says that if lethal injection is determined by courts to be unconstitutional or becomes unavailable, an execution shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia. Electrocution and firing squad are legal alternatives should nitrogen gas not be available or be held unconstitutional.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections was charged with writing a new protocol for lethal injection following the May release of a multicounty grand jury report. The grand jury said the protocol should be revised and needs to require verification at every step of the process.

Pruitt previously said he will not request new execution dates until at least five months after the protocol is finalized.

“We are evaluating the current protocol, looking at the grand jury report and determining what changes need to be made,” said Terri Watkins, an Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokeswoman. There is no timeline, she said.

Pruitt said he thinks “it would be wise for the state of Oklahoma to engage in a process on the nitrogen oxide (option).”

“It is authorized by statute,” he said, but “it will be challenged. There will be an Eighth Amendment challenge.”

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

“We will litigate that,” he said. “The policymakers have spoken. The policymakers have established that as a matter of law. It is an alternative.”

No state has ever used nitrogen gas in an execution, but some researchers have suggested a protocol that would use a clinical plastic face mask connected by tubing to a canister of nitrogen gas rather than a gas chamber.

“I think it is wise for the DOC to consider both and to publish both,” Pruitt said of execution protocols for lethal injection and nitrogen gas.

Administering the death penalty is the “most sobering responsibility that the state of Oklahoma has,” Pruitt said.

Source: Tulsa World, Barbara Hoberock, September 21, 2016

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