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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…

Mississippi may execute two inmates in 2017

Drug used to perform lethal injections draws controversy

It's been 5 years since Mississippi executed a death row inmate. In an exclusive interview with 16 WAPT News, Attorney General Jim Hood said he's expecting 2 executions in 2017.

The state executed 6 death row inmates in 2012 by way of lethal injection.

"Then the anti-death penalty folks decided they would attack the drug manufacturers and go after the people who supply the drugs," Hood said.

Hood has been defending the state of Mississippi against lawsuits from death row inmates since the last execution 5 years ago. 2 condemned inmates, Richard Jordan and Ricky Chase, filed state and federal lawsuits. Charles Crawford filed a similar lawsuit in Hinds County.

"These prisoners were sentenced to death. They were not sentenced to be tortured to death," said attorney Jim Craig, co-director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans.

Craig, who represents Jordan, Chase and Crawford, said that Mississippi's execution method constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

"And that involves when there is a substantial risk of severe pain that can be avoided b using other methods of execution," Craig said.

There is a 3-step protocol to execute death row inmates at the state prison at Parchman. The 1st drug is an anesthetic which puts the prisoner to sleep. The 2nd drug paralyzes the inmate. The 3rd drug is potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Hood said the legal battle surrounds the 1st drug, the anesthetic. For years, the state used sodium pentothal, but after lawsuits, drug manufacturers stopped making it.

"We checked with every other state. No other state could get it," Hood said. "We've written letters to the drug manufacturers. They sent us a letter back basically waving at us and they didn't use all their fingers."

Mississippi adopted a new drug, midazolam, as the 1st injection in the 3-step protocol, which Hood said is approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. But Craig said midazolam is not strong enough to keep a prisoner unconscious. Because of that, he claimed that the 2nd drug can shock them back into a form of consciousness.

"You're, in fact, being suffocated to death. If you happen to survive that, then the 3rd drug, which is potassium chloride, if injected while the prisoner is conscious in any extent, will cause extensive chemical burning," Craig said.

Craig said Mississippi should be using pentobarbital as the 1st, or only, drug in the lethal injection series. He said it causes a barbiturate overdose that puts the prisoner to sleep and stops the heart. But Hood said the U.S. Supreme Court has already cleared the way for Mississippi executions to resume.

"In a couple of weeks, we hope to get this motion filed to get the federal court case dismissed, and also at the same time, file a motion with the Mississippi Supreme Court to set an execution date, hopefully sometime this fall," Hood said.

"I do beg to differ with him," Craig said. "I don't think the courts will allow execution dates to be set in 2 weeks, or even anytime this year."

"I anticipate a couple of executions between now and the end of the year" Hood said.

Hood said the 2 inmates up for execution are Richard Jordan and Thomas Loden. Jordan is 1 of the inmates suing Mississippi, and is the longest-serving inmate on death row, with 39 years.

Craig said the legal battle over lethal injections in Mississippi is far from over.

"This is not about whether or not the prisoners will be executed. It's not about whether they have done the crimes they're charged with. It's about whether we as people, we in Mississippi and we in America are going to torture people to death," said Craig.

Source: WAPT news, July 8, 2017

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