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Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

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Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Poorly executed - Indiana inmate challenges state's lethal cocktail change

Indiana's death chamber
In its 201-year history, Indiana has used 3 methods of execution. Hanging was the primary method until 1913, followed by electrocution. 

In 1995, the Department of Correction began using lethal injection - a protocol soon to be reviewed by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Vacating a ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals, the state's highest court rightly will take up the question of whether the department has overstepped its authority in changing its procedures for carrying out the death penalty. 

The Supreme Court will independently review facts in a case challenging the Department of Correction's 2014 decision to use a new 3-drug combination in lethal injections.

A lawsuit filed by a death row inmate argues the DOC can't change its execution protocol without public notice or comment. The appeals court agreed in a unanimous ruling and effectively halted executions in the state. They are likely on hold while the Supreme Court reviews the case.

12 men are currently on death row in Indiana, and 1 woman is being held in Ohio under Indiana's death penalty law. 

No executions are scheduled due to prior court rulings or pending appeals. Joseph Corcoran, sentenced to death in 1999 for killing 4 people in a house on Bayer Avenue, is the only Allen County inmate. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he has exhausted his appeals.

The appeals court decision challenging the Department of Correction was a victory for Roy Ward and other death row prisoners who argue they should not be executed with experimental drugs. 

The department unilaterally decided 2 years ago to use a 3-drug combination of the barbiturate methohexital, followed by pancuronium bromide, a paralytic, followed by potassium chloride to stop the prisoner's heart. The combination allegedly has not been used in any other execution in the United States.

The department claimed authority to change its lethal injection procedure as an internal policy, but the appeals court agreed with the plaintiff that the decision was an administrative rule with the effect of law, which must be adopted under the guidelines of the Indiana Administrative Rules and Procedure Act.

"(T)he public has a right to know what unelected bureaucrats at state agencies are doing," said attorney David Frank, who represented Ward before the appeals court. The decision doesn't mean Indiana cannot carry out executions, but it brings what the state is doing "out of the shadows" and holds state officials accountable, he said.

It is not known whether the state has a sufficient supply of each drug to carry out an execution. The Indiana General Assembly, in the biennial budget bill, authorized Gov. Eric Holcomb and the department to grant anonymity to drugmakers that agree to supply the drugs. 

A nationwide shortage exists because pharmaceutical companies, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, are refusing to sell their drugs for execution purposes.

A federal appeals court cleared the way earlier this year for the state of Ohio to use a 3-drug mixture in lethal injections, although death-penalty opponents have said they will ask the Supreme Court to review that decision.

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun famously criticized the process of administering the death penalty as tinkering with "the machinery of death." The decision before Indiana's highest court might well amount to tinkering but - as the law of the land here and in 30 other states - it deserves solemn and serious consideration.

Source: Journal-Gazette, Editorial, September 13, 2017


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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