In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many r…

Ohio governor delays 8 executions as court fight continues

Gov. John Kasich on Friday delayed 8 executions as a court fight continues over the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection process.

Kasich's announcement postponed the execution of a condemned child killer scheduled for next week until May and moved 7 other procedures months into the future.

The Republican governor said the timing of arguments before a Cincinnati federal appeals court necessitated the delay. The court is hearing Ohio's appeal of a federal judge's order finding the state's latest execution process unconstitutional.

Kasich said he's confident Ohio will win the appeal but that the court calendar didn't provide enough time to prepare for executions scheduled this month, next month and April.

"These delays are necessary to allow the judicial process to come to a full resolution, and ensure that the state can move forward with the executions after the appeal is settled," Kasich said.

The delay also leaves open the possibility that, should the appeal reach the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee for the court's vacant 9th seat, will be confirmed and able to hear the case.

The delay was another setback for death penalty supporters who hoped that new supplies of drugs obtained by Ohio last year would allow executions to move forward after a 3-years-plus delay.

The state has said it has enough drugs for 4 executions, but records obtained by The Associated Press indicate Ohio could have enough on hand to put dozens of killers to death.

Ronald Phillips, scheduled to die Feb. 15 for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993, is now set for execution May 10.

Also Friday, the Ohio Parole Board rejected a clemency request by Gary Otte, who shot 2 people to death in back-to-back robberies over 2 days in suburban Cleveland in 1992. The board cited the "heinous" nature of the killings. Kasich on Friday moved Otte's execution date from March 15 to June 13.

At issue is a federal judge's ruling last month rejecting the state's latest proposed 3-drug execution method, which hasn't been used in Ohio.

As part of that decision, Magistrate Judge Michael Merz said Ohio didn't prove that the first drug in its current 3-drug process, the sedative midazolam, doesn't present a substantial risk of harm.

Merz also said the possibility exists that Ohio could obtain the barbiturate pentobarbital.

Ohio says it has made numerous unsuccessful efforts to find pentobarbital. In a court filing last week, state attorneys said they asked 7 other states for the drug.

The prisons agency also tried in vain to obtain the active ingredient in pentobarbital in hopes of having a compounded version made, the filing said.

The filing says Ohio asked Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Texas and Virginia for the drug.

"None of those states agreed to provide pentobarbital to Ohio," according to the filing, which summarized a sealed deposition by Stephen Gray, the prison agency's in-house lawyer.

The filing doesn't say when Ohio made those requests. Of the 7 states, only Georgia, Missouri and Texas appear to have reliable sources of pentobarbital when needed. Those states won't reveal the source.

Executions have been on hold since January 2014 when Ohio used a never-tried 2-drug combo that it then abandoned.

The prison system says a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year permitted midazolam's use.

"Ohio has the capability to perform constitutional executions now. It should be permitted to do so," Thomas Madden, an assistant attorney general, said in Ohio's appeal.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has scheduled arguments for Feb. 21.

The prisons system changed its execution process because it can't find pentobarbital, said Gary Mohr, the agency's director, who said the agency is "comfortable" with its position before the appeals court.

"This is a serious responsibility, and we work hard to carry out executions in a humane manner, with the utmost respect for the law, for victims, and for justice," Mohr said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. "That commitment is unwavering."

The state also said in its filing:

- Ohio can't import pentobarbital or its active ingredient from a foreign manufacturer because the state's application to add pentobarbital to its current federal importer registration hasn't been acted on in 4 months.

- Even if Ohio had a license to import the drug, it hasn't identified any company that would provide it.

Source: Associated Press, February 11, 2017

State postpones executions again, adds 5 more

Gov. John Kasich has postponed 8 scheduled executions as the state continues to work through legal challenges and attempt to locate supplies of the drugs it uses to put inmates to death.

The move Feb. 10 comes a couple of weeks after a federal magistrate judge blocked 3 executions that were scheduled through April, ruling that the new lethal injection process adopted by the state was unconstitutional.

Ronald Phillips, who was convicted in the brutal rape and murder of an Akron girl in 1993, was scheduled to be executed next week. He's now scheduled for execution on May 10.

Gary Otte, who faced a March 15 execution date in the killing of 2 people in Cuyahoga County in 1992, has been moved to June 13.

And Raymond Tibbetts, facing an April 12 execution for the murder of his wife an an elderly man in Hamilton County in1997, was pushed back to July 26.

The postponements continue a years-long legal challenge over Ohio's lethal injection protocols, following the execution of Dennis McGuire in January 2014.

McGuire, who received a capital sentence for the rape and murder of a pregnant Preble County woman, gasped for breath during what witnesses described as a prolonged procedure under the state's 2-drug execution method.

In early 2015, state prison officials abandoned that combination, switching to 2 different drugs, though that protocol has not been used.

The state and others have struggled to find supplies of execution drugs, after manufacturers blocked their use for lethal injections. State law changes enabled the purchase of drugs from compounding pharmacies, under legislation that allowed the names of those businesses to be kept secret, but prison officials have not identified or obtained supplies in that way.

In October, state prison officials announced a new 3-drug lethal injection protocol, using midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride. But a federal magistrate judge last month ruled the new process was unconstitutional, noting in documents, "The court concludes that use of midazolam as the 1st drug in Ohio's present 3-drug protocol will create a 'substantial risk of serious harm' or an 'objectively intolerable risk of harm'"

The governor's office announced Friday that a pending review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was not expected to be completed in time already-scheduled executions.

According to the governor's office, "Accordingly, these delays are necessary to allow the judicial process to come to a full resolution, and ensure that the state can move forward with the executions."

Asked earlier this month whether the state would ever be in a position to execute inmates, Kasich responded, "I don't know. I just don't have the answer to that. We have a guy that raped and murdered a 3-year-old girl. He's next in line. I can't tell the judges what to do. Some of them are probably philosophically opposed to the death penalty. No matter what we do, they're going to remain opposed to it. I don't have any better answer to that."

He added, "I would like to proceed. There's no joy or anything in this. It's just it's a matter of justice, particularly for the families that have been aggrieved. We'll do the best we can."

Kasich has postponed executions on several occasions since McGuire's death. Other dates that were pushed back Feb. 10 included:

  • Alva Campbell, Jr., convicted in the 1997 murder of a Franklin County man, to Sept. 13 from May 10.
  • William Montgomery, convicted in the 1986 murder of 2 women in Lucas County, to Oct. 18 from June 13.
  • Robert Van Hook, convicted in the 1985 murder of a Hamilton County man, to Nov. 15 from July 26.
  • Jeffrey A. Wogenstahl, convicted in the 1991 murder of a Hamilton County girl, to April 17, 2019, from Sept. 13.
  • Melvin Bonnell, convicted in the 1987 murder of a Cuyahoga County man, to April 11, 2018, from Oct. 18.

More than 30 executions are scheduled through early 2021.

Source: Twinsburg Bulletin, February 11, 2017

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