Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Ohio ready to resume executions with new drug combination

The Ohio attorney general's office said the state will use the drugs midazolam.
The Ohio attorney general's office said the state will use midazolam.
Ohio plans to resume executions next year after a 3-year hiatus with a new 3-drug combination, a state prosecutor said in a Columbus courtroom.

Assistant State Atty. Gen. Thomas Madden told federal Judge Edmund Sargus that details of the execution policy will be released by week's end, the Associated Press reported.

The state's last execution was in January 2014, when corrections officials employed a combination of a sedative and a painkiller to execute Dennis McGuire. 

The process took 25 minutes, and witnesses said McGuire seized and gasped for 15 minutes. McGuire had been convicted for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman in 1993.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich later delayed all scheduled executions until January 2017, when Ronald Phillips is scheduled to die for the rape and murder of his girlfriend's daughter. 

The delay resulted in part from Ohio's difficulty in obtaining lethal drugs required to carry out executions.

Lethal injection, the preferred execution method in the United States for decades, has become less viable as the most efficient drugs have become unavailable. 

Supplies of thiopental, one of the crucial drugs, ran out in 2010 when its U.S. manufacturer ceased production and foreign supplies were not approved for import by the FDA.

In December 2014, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law a bill that would provide 20-year confidentiality for pharmacies that prepared lethal formulations. 

Some Ohio lawmakers openly discussed the use of firing squads to carry out death sentences, a move rejected by Kasich.

Source: USA Today, October 3, 2016

Ronald Phillips execution: Ohio plans January death using 3-drug combo after 3-year pause

Ohio plans to resume executions in January with a new 3-drug combination after an unofficial 3-year moratorium blamed on shortages of lethal drugs, an attorney representing the state told a federal judge Monday.

The state outlined its plan to Columbus federal Judge Edmund Sargus in a hearing where The Associated Press was the only media outlet present. Thomas Madden with the Ohio attorney general's office said the state will use the drugs midazolam, which puts the inmate to sleep; rocuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. He said the drugs are not compounded and are FDA approved.

Madden said a new execution policy will be announced at the end of the week.

Attorneys representing death row inmates say they'll file a new challenge almost immediately.

The development opens the way for the execution of the Ronald Phillips for the rape and murder of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993.

Ohio hasn't put anyone to death since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure using a never-before-tried 2-drug combo.

The state also used midazolam in McGuire's execution, making it disappointing that Ohio would again turn to that drug, said Allen Bohnert, a federal public defender representing several death row inmates.

Ohio and other states have struggled since then to find legal supplies of execution drugs. Much of the states' problem has come from the fact that many of the drugs used in executions are made in Europe?, and officials there widely oppose the death penalty.

The state has more than 2 dozen inmates with firm execution dates sitting on death row, with executions scheduled out as far as October 2019.

After McGuire's execution, the longest ever in Ohio using lethal drugs, the prisons agency changed its policies to allow for single doses of 2 alternative drugs. Complicating matters, neither of those drugs - sodium thiopental and pentobarbital - is available in the United States after their manufacturers put them off-limits for executions.

The state has unsuccessfully tried to find compounded or specially mixed versions.

Last year, Republican Gov. John Kasich ruled out looking for alternative methods, such as the firing squad or hanging.

In 2014, Kasich signed a bill into law shielding the names of companies that provide the state with lethal injection drugs.

Supporters said such confidentiality is necessary to obtain supplies of the drugs, and the measure is needed to restart Ohio executions. Opponents said it was naive to think the bill could truly protect companies' names from being revealed.

In 2014, former federal Judge Gregory Frost sided with the state, saying the prisons agency's need to obtain the drugs outweighed concerns by death row inmates that the information was needed to meaningfully challenge the source of the drugs.

Phillips' execution was initially delayed because he requested to donate his organs, and Kasich said he wanted officials to study the feasibility of the request. He was eventually denied the request, with officials saying he wouldn't have time to recover from the transplant operation before being executed.

Source: CBS news, October 3, 2016

Supreme Court rejects appeal from Springfield man on death row

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday rejected an appeal from a Springfield man who was sentenced to death in 2011 for his role in the murder of a counselor for troubled young people.

The justices, without comment, let stand a ruling last year by the Ohio Supreme Court which upheld the conviction and death penalty of Jason Dean, 41, who took part in a 4-day shooting spree that culminated in the death of Titus Arnold of Springfield.

Dean's co-defendant, Joshua Wade, who was 16 at the time, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Source: Dayton Daily News, October 3, 2016

Ohio Plans To Return To Its Controversial Execution Sedative

Ohio's death chamber
Ohio's death chamber
Two and a half years after a botched execution, Ohio says it intends to return to one of the same drugs.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said on Monday that the state will be changing its execution plans in an attempt to resume lethal injections in executions scheduled to begin early next year.

The state has not held an execution since January 2014.

Instead of using either pentobarbital or sodium thiopental, the drugs called for in its current single-drug protocol, the state will change its procedures to allow midazolam to be used as part of a three-drug protocol.

Midazolam, a sedative, was used in Ohio’s most recent execution, a 26-minute lethal injection in which inmate Dennis McGuire “struggled and gasped audibly for air.”

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is expected to release a new execution protocol later this week that pairs the sedative with a paralytic and a drug that stops the heart.

Execution drugs in general have been difficult for states to get ahold of as drug makers enact procedures to keep their products out of the hands of death penalty states, although midazolam has been somewhat easier for states to obtain.

Arizona, which also carried out a botched execution using midazolam, announced in June that the state would be abandoning use of the drug, even though it currently has no access to other execution drugs. Oklahoma, which also had a botched execution when using midazolam, currently has its executions on hold following a highly critical state investigation into its execution process.

States that have recently been carrying out the most executions — like Texas, Missouri, and Georgia — all use compounded pentobarbital.

Although Ohio’s new protocol will use the same sedative used in the McGuire execution, the state will follow it with other drugs. States and death row inmates agree that the final drug can be quite painful if the inmate is not properly sedated.

The Ohio Attorney General’s office declined to answer if the state has already obtained the drug, referring questions to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which did not respond.

Ohio, like other death penalty states, keeps the supplier of execution drugs a secret, arguing that they would face harassment, boycotts, and even threats. Weeks ago, BuzzFeed News revealed that an expert hired by Ohio and Texas misled the courts when making an argument that drug suppliers faced serious threats.

Source: BuzzFeed News, Chris McDaniel, October 3, 2016

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