Innocent on Death Row? New Evidence Casts Doubt on Convictions

Rodney Reed’s death sentence was suspended. But researchers say other current cases raise similar doubt about the guilt of the accused.
The number of executions in the United States remains close to nearly a three-decade low. And yet the decline has not prevented what those who closely track the death penalty see as a disturbing trend: a significant number of cases in which prisoners are being put to death, or whose execution dates are near, despite questions about their guilt.
Rodney Reed, who came within days of execution in Texas before an appeals court suspended his death sentence on Friday, has been the most high-profile recent example, receiving support from Texas lawmakers of both parties and celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West, who urged a new examination of the evidence.
Mr. Reed has long maintained that he did not commit the 1996 murder for which he was convicted. And in recent months, new witnesses came forward pointing toward another possible suspect: the dead…

Nevada refuses Pfizer demand to return drugs state plans to use in execution

Pfizer logo
Nevada prisons official said Friday the state is refusing pharmaceutical company Pfizer's demand to return a drug it manufactured and not use it in a planned lethal injection execution.

Nevada received a letter Oct. 4 similar to one received by officials in Nebraska and reported by the Omaha World-Herald, Nevada Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Keast said.

The Nevada letter, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, seeks the return from the prisons pharmacy of the sedative diazepam or the opioid painkiller fentanyl made by Pfizer if they are intended for what the company calls "misuse" in an execution.

"Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment," company executive Robert Jones said in the Oct. 4 correspondence, which promised to reimburse the state for the returned drug.

Pfizer announced in May 2016 it would block distribution of its products and those of its affiliate, Hospira, for executions in the 31 states in the U.S. with the death penalty. Company spokesman Steven Danehy in New York confirmed the authenticity of Jones' letter, but declined to comment about it.

Plans for Nevada's first execution in more than a decade — using a never-before-tried combination of diazepam, fentanyl and the muscle paralytic cisatracurium — were put on hold this week pending review by the state Supreme Court.

Diazepam is commonly known as Valium. Keast said the supply that Nevada received for the planned execution of twice-convicted murderer Scott Raymond Dozier was manufactured by Pfizer.

Invoice records show the drugs were obtained in late May from Cardinal Health, a company that Keast called the usual state prisons pharmacy supplier, at a combined cost of less than $500. Cardinal Health has not said if the company knew the intended use of the drugs.

"We are under no obligation, once we've made a purchase, to return it," Keast said Friday.

In Nebraska, the Omaha World-Herald reported a similar Oct. 4 letter was among several documents released by the state Department of Corrections in response to public records requests from the newspaper and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.

Officials with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts declined to say whether the state had any Pfizer drugs.

Nebraska spent $10,500 last month on four drugs for the execution, said Dawn-Renee Smith, a spokeswoman for that state's corrections department. While Smith didn't disclose the source of the drugs, she said they did come from a source in the U.S.

Nebraska plans to use a four-drug protocol in its lethal injections, including the same three drugs as Nevada plus potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Pfizer manufactures three of the drugs, but not cisatracurium.

Nebraska has struggled to obtain lethal injection drugs in recent years because of company bans. It began shopping for drugs again after voters reinstated capital punishment last year, overriding state lawmakers who had abolished the death penalty. Nebraska hasn't executed anyone since 1997.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, Ken Ritter, November 17, 2017

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