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As Trial in South Carolina Execution-Method Challenge Begins, Review of State’s Death Penalty Reveals System that is Biased, Arbitrary, and Error-Prone

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As the trial challenging South Carolina’s execution methods began on August 1, 2022, a review of the state’s death penalty by the Greenville News revealed a pattern of discrimination, geographic arbitrariness, and high error rates in the implementation of the punishment.  In a two-part examination, reporter Kathryn Casteel analyzed racial and county demographics on death row, reversal rates in capital cases, and the timing of death sentences to provide context for the state’s efforts to institute the electric chair and firing squad as its primary execution methods. RELATED |  Future of South Carolina death penalty now rests with judge Four of South Carolina’s 35 death-row prisoners are suing the state to block a law that would force them to choose between electrocution and firing squad as methods of execution. One of the men, Richard Moore, wrote in an April legal filing, “I believe this election is forcing me to choose between two unconstitutional methods of execution.” Executions ar

Johnson & Johnson unit speaks out at planned death row drug use

Etomidate
Group says it does not condone use of its drugs in lethal injection as Florida eyes move

Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest healthcare company, has hit out at plans by the US state of Florida to execute a prisoner on death row using an experimental lethal injection containing a drug it invented.

Janssen, a division of J&J, discovered etomidate in the 1960s but no longer makes the off-patent medicine, which is manufactured by several drugmakers.

“We do not condone the use of our medicines in lethal injections for capital punishment,” Janssen said in a statement.

It added: “Janssen discovers and develops medical innovations to save and enhance lives. We do not support the use of our medicines for indications that have not been approved by regulatory authorities, such as the US [Food and Drug Administration].”

It is the first time that a drug connected to J&J has been used in a lethal injection and, as such, the company has not spoken out on the topic before.

Florida has not disclosed which company made its supplies of etomidate, an injectable sedative used to anaesthetise patients, which is manufactured by several companies including Pfizer and Mylan, according to a government database of prescription drugs.

J&J’s condemnation follows several similar interventions by drugmakers such as Pfizer, Roche and Baxter.

Most drugmakers are vehemently opposed to the use of their products in lethal injections and many have responded to anti-death penalty campaigners by introducing controls to stop correctional facilities stockpiling their medicines for executions.

The industry’s opposition to capital punishment — which it sees as anathema to its mission of saving lives — has frustrated states that still have the death penalty.

Many such states have been unable to secure supplies of drugs and have been forced to turn to unproven experimental cocktails or, in the case of Utah, reintroduce the firing squad.

“The world’s largest drug manufacturer has added its voice to the industry-wide consensus that opposes the misuse of medical products in lethal injection execution,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, a charity that describes itself as an “international rights organisation”.

Ms Foa added: “Pharmaceutical companies are clear that their drugs are for saving the lives of patients, not ending the lives of prisoners. In Florida particularly, governor [Rick] Scott should listen to clear and unequivocal statements from J&J and others calling time on this dangerous misuse of medicines.”

It is not clear how Florida circumvented the controls put in place by drugmakers to stop correctional facilities from buying their medicines, although it could have amassed supplies of etomidate before it publicly announced its intention to use it in a lethal injection earlier this year.

Florida plans to use etomidate as the first of three drugs in the lethal injection, which also includes rocuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer to prevent jerking, and potassium acetate, which stops the heart when administered in high enough doses.

The state is also substituting potassium acetate for potassium chloride, which is more commonly used but harder to secure because of the supply controls.

Potassium acetate has been used in a lethal injection only once before in 2015 in Oklahoma — but only by mistake. In that highly publicised execution, the prisoner said he felt like his body was “on fire” before he died.

After defeating several legal challenges, Florida scheduled the execution of double murderer Mark James Asay for this Thursday.

A spokesperson for Florida attorney-general Pam Bondi did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: The Financial Times, David Crow, August 21, 2017


Florida set to conduct its 1st execution in a year and a half


Ahead of a planned resumption of executions in Florida on 24 August, 18 months after the last one, Amnesty International is issuing a paper on recent developments relating to the death penalty in the US state.

"Death in Florida" outlines the state's response to the January 2016 US Supreme Court decision that Florida's capital sentencing law was unconstitutional, and the governor's reaction to a prosecutor's subsequent decision to reject the death penalty.

When State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she would not seek the death penalty due to its demonstrable flaws, Governor Scott immediately responded by ordering her replacement with a different prosecutor more willing to engage in this lethal pursuit. So far the Governor has transferred 26 cases to his preferred prosecutor.

Racial discrimination was 1 of the death penalty's flaws - along with its costs, risks and failure as a deterrent - cited by State Attorney Ayala, the 1st African American to be elected to that position in Florida.

"Here are 2 officials taking very different approaches to the overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is a failed policy," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

"One says drop it, it is a waste of resources, prone to discrimination, arbitrariness and error. The other says crank up the machinery of death.

"One is acting consistently with international human rights principles. The other is not."

Background Information


The prisoner set to be executed on 24 August at 6pm is Mark Asay, who was sent to death row in 1988 for 2 murders committed in 1987. The last execution in Florida was of Oscar Bolin on 7 January 2016, 5 days before the US Supreme Court issued its Hurst v. Florida ruling that the state's capital sentencing statute was unconstitutional.

Source: Amnesty International USA, August 21, 2017


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