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 delays nine executions amid legal battle over injection drugs

Governor John Kasich has pushed back the execution dates so a federal appeals court has time to rule on a controversial sedative's constitutionality. Critics argue midazolam leads to cruel and unusual punishment.

In a setback for death penalty supporters, Ohio Governor and former US presidential candidate John Kasich announced on Monday that nine scheduled lethal injections would be put on hold until a federal appeals court can review the constitutionality of the sedative drug midazolam hydrochloride.

The planned May 10 execution of Ronald Phillips, who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a child, was pushed back to July 26, along with eight other executions scheduled for later months.

The Republican governor said the timing of the court's review meant the delay was necessary.

An unconstitutional drug?

On June 14, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments to determine whether using midazolam to induce unconsciousness before lethal heart-stopping drugs are administered leads to "substantial risk" of pain, violating a prisoner's constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

In January 2014, after midazolam was used as the sedative, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during his 25-minute long death procedure. Executions had been on hold in the Midwest state since then and were expected to resume in January of this year before a lower court stopped the resumption.

Ohio state attorneys argue that the massive midazolam doses planned for the scheduled executions - 500 milligrams, or 10 times what was used on McGuire - would ensure inmates were rendered fully unconscious.

Another state battles with midazolam

Kasich's postponement comes in the shadow of Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson's unprecedented decision to expedite a series of executions before his state's supply of midazolam was set to expire at the end of the April.

Kenneth Williams, one of the recently executed Arkansas death row inmates, was reported to have convulsed and gasped for air a few minutes after his execution had begun.

Arizona, another US state in which the death penalty is legal, previously used midazolam as a sedative but agreed not to use it in future executions.

The pharmaceutical makers of midazolam have banned the sale of the drugs to prison systems due to ethical concerns surrounding its use in death penalty procedures.

Prior to midazolam, death penalty states used an anesthetic in their lethal injection mixes.

Source: dw.com, May 2, 2017

Ohio governor delays 9 executions - including Akron killer's - as court fight continues

Governor John Kasich
Governor John Kasich
Gov. John Kasich on Monday delayed 9 executions as a court fight continues over the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection process, including a contested sedative used in problematic executions in at least 3 states.

Kasich's announcement postponed next month's execution of child killer Ronald Phillips until July and pushed back 8 other procedures.

The Republican governor said the timing of arguments before a Cincinnati federal appeals court makes the delay necessary.

The court is hearing Ohio's appeal of a federal judge's order finding the state's latest execution process unconstitutional.

The effectiveness of the sedative midazolam is expected to be front and center of those arguments. That's especially true given last week's execution in Arkansas of Kenneth Williams, a convicted killer who lurched and convulsed 20 times during a lethal injection process Thursday that began with midazolam.

Midazolam was also used in Ohio in January 2014 when Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure, the state's longest. Executions in the state have been on hold since then.

In July 2014, Arizona inmate Joseph Wood gasped for air and snorted and his belly inflated and deflated during the nearly 2 hours it took for him to die when the state executed him.

Both Ohio and Arizona used a 2-drug method - starting with midazolam - that each state has since abandoned. Unlike Ohio, Arizona agreed not to use midazolam in future executions.

Attorneys for death row inmates challenging Ohio's use of midazolam say it doesn't render inmates fully unconscious, leading to an unconstitutionally high risk of harm.

The state argues that the massive dose planned in Ohio of 500 milligrams - 10 times what it used on McGuire - is more than enough to ensure inmates don't feel pain. The state also says the U.S. Supreme Court permitted the drug's use in a 2015 ruling out of Oklahoma.

Kasich issued a similar delay in February to give a 3-judge panel of the appeals court time to hear similar arguments. That panel sided with the lower-court judge. In a rare move, the full court said it would hear the case and set arguments for June 14.

Monday's 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 delay of more than 3 years.

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.

Phillips, scheduled to die May 10 for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993, is now set for execution July 26.


A look at the nine condemned Ohio killers who received new execution dates Monday based on an order by Gov. John Kasich. The governor says changing the dates was necessary because of the schedule recently set for June court arguments over the state's lethal injection process:

  • Ronald Phillips, sentenced to die for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, in Akron in 1993. Previous execution date: May 10. New date: July 26.
  • Gary Otte, sentenced to die for the Feb. 12, 1992, killing of Robert Wasikowski and the Feb. 13, 1992, killing of Sharon Kostura. Both slayings took place in an apartment building in Parma, in suburban Cleveland. Previous execution date: June 13.New date: Sept. 13.
  • Raymond Tibbetts, sentenced to die for stabbing Fred Hicks to death at Hicks' Cincinnati home in 1997. Tibbetts also received life imprisonment for fatally beating and stabbing his wife, 42-year-old Judith Crawford, during an argument over Tibbetts' crack cocaine habit. Previous execution date: July 26. New execution date: Oct. 18.
  • Alva Campbell Jr., sentenced to die for killing Charles Dials in 1997 in Columbus. Campbell shot Dials after taking him hostage following Campbell's assault of a court officer during a hearing. Previous execution date: Sept. 13. New execution date: Nov. 15.
  • William Montgomery, convicted of fatally shooting 20-year-old Debra Ogle and her 19-year-old roommate, Cynthia Tincher, in Toledo in 1986. Montgomery was convicted of murder for Tincher's killing and sentenced to 15 years to life. He was convicted of aggravated murder in Ogle's killing and received the death sentence. Previous execution date: Oct. 18. New execution date: Jan. 3, 2018.
  • Robert Van Hook, sentenced to die for fatally strangling and stabbing David Self, a man he met in a bar in Cincinnati in 1985. Previous execution date: Nov. 15. New execution date: Feb. 13.
  • John Stumpf, sentenced to die for fatally shooting 54-year-old Mary Jane Stout, in Guernsey County in 1984 during a robbery at her home. Stumpf was also convicted of attempted aggravated murder for shooting Stout's husband, Norman. Previous execution date: Jan. 3, 2018. New execution date: Nov. 14, 2018.
  • Warren Henness, sentenced to die for shooting and then robbing 51-year-old Richard Meyers in Columbus in 1992. Meyers, a substance abuse counselor, had been helping Henness seek drug counseling and treatment for Henness' wife. Previous execution date: Feb. 13, 2018. New execution date: March 14, 2018.
  • Douglas Coley, sentenced to die for the carjacking and fatal shooting of 21-year-old Samar El-Okdi in Toledo in 1997. Previous execution date: March 24, 2018. New execution date: Sept. 18, 2019.

Source: Akron Beacon Journal, May 2, 2017

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