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Tennessee execution: Billy Ray Irick tortured to death, expert says in new filing

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Editor's note: Reporter Dave Boucher was one of seven state-required media witnesses at Irick's execution. 
Billy Ray Irick felt searing pain akin to torture before he died in a Tennessee prison in August, but steps taken in carrying out his execution blocked signs of suffering, according to a doctor who reviewed information about the lethal injection.
In new court filings entered late Thursday amidst an ongoing legal challenge of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol, Dr. David Lubarsky said statements from people who witnessed the execution indicated the controversial drug midazolam failed to ensure Irick could not feel pain during his death.
As a result, the death row inmate “experienced the feeling of choking, drowning in his own fluids, suffocating, being buried alive, and the burning sensation caused by the injection of the potassium chloride,” Lubarsky wrote in the filing.
The document also says the state did not follow its own lethal injection protocol, raising questio…

Florida shooter willing to plead guilty to avoid death penalty, attorney says

Nikolas Cruz
(CNN) Florida gunman Nikolas Cruz is willing to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty and spare the community from reliving the massacre in a trial, his public defender said.

Cruz is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder for the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, who is representing the confessed gunman, said there's no question he killed the 14 students and three staff members.

"The only question is, does he live or does he die?" Finkelstein asked.

Prosecutors would need to agree not to ask for capital punishment and allow life without parole instead. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cruz's next court date is set for Monday morning.

Latest developments


• The school district has proposed tearing down the building where the shooting happened, Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky said.

• The President and the first lady visited several injured patients at a Florida hospital.

• Math teacher Jim Gard says an administrator sent an email in late 2016, asking to be notified if Cruz came on campus with a backpack. The administrator gave no explanation for the email, Gard said.

• An initial investigation indicates Cruz fired nearly 150 shots from his rifle, according to a law enforcement source.

• Cruz legally purchased the firearm used in the shooting, an AR-15-style weapon, in Florida nearly a year ago.

• He purchased at least five other guns in the past year, according to a law enforcement source.

President visits victims


President Donald Trump and first lady, Melania, visited hospitalized victims Friday.

Trump also visited the Broward County Sheriff's Office headquarters, where he met with first responders who played a role in rescues and the arrest of the shooter.

"What a great job you've done and we appreciate it very much," he said.

Trump told reporters at Broward Health North hospital that he spoke to victims, and applauded the efforts of the hospital staff and first responders to save lives.

When asked whether more gun laws were needed to prevent school shootings, he did not respond.

The shooting is at least the fourth at US middle and high schools this year, and has reignited a debate over gun control. Some blame congressional inaction for the massacre while others say now is not the time for such political battles.


Missed opportunities?


As the victims' loved ones mourn, more signs are emerging that authorities missed opportunities to intervene weeks before the massacre.

Mental health is the issue
The FBI said it received two tips that appear to relate to Cruz ahead of the shooting. The agency said it failed to act on a January 5 tip about the former student.

The caller provided information about "Cruz's gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting."

The information should have been assessed as a "potential threat to life," but the proper protocols weren't followed and the Miami office was not notified, the agency said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau is investigating what happened.

"We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy," Wray said in a statement.

A video blogger had said he warned the FBI in September about a possible school shooting threat from a YouTube user with the same name as Cruz. An FBI agent confirmed that a field officer in Jackson, Mississippi, received the tip and interviewed the person who shared it.

But no additional information was found to help identify the person who posted the comment and no connection was made to South Florida, said Robert Lasky, FBI special agent in charge of the Miami division.

Source: CNN, February 17, 2018


Florida Shooter Nikolas Cruz Was on Rifle Team Funded by NRA


Nikolas Cruz
The 19-year-old who authorities believe killed 17 people at a Florida high school once participated in a rifle marksmanship program that was supported by a grant from the National Rifle Association. 

Nikolas Cruz, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who is a suspect in the mass shooting there on Wednesday, excelled in the varsity marksmanship team of the school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program, an Associated Press investigation found on Friday. 

“He was a very good shot,” Aaron Diener, a 20-year-old former teammate, told the AP. “He had an AR-15 he talked about, and pistols.”

The program used special air rifles that were for target shooting, and in 2016, it received $10,827 from the NRA's fundraising and charitable arm, the NRA Foundation. Authorities said Cruz used an AR-15 rifle when he killed teachers and students as young as 14. 

The NRA gives money to schools across the country for programs ranging from rifle teams—like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—to programs that teach young children about staying away from guns. 

A spokesman for the school district told the AP that the school's JROTC program used the grants for equipment such as safety glasses and Kevlar curtains. 

“If grant money is needed again to support a program that benefits 6,500 students, helps them focus on school, earn scholarships and plan for their future, then we will continue to apply for those types of grants,” he said.

The school shooting on Wednesday reignited the national debate on gun control, with proponents, including students of the high school, urging Congress to do something to make it harder for people to access guns. Opponents still maintain the position that gun policies won't stop mass shootings. 

Source: Newsweek, Melina Delkic, February 17, 2018


Four Truths About the Florida School Shooting


Florida school shooting
Onto the continuing tragedy of American gun violence are now piled many kinds of grotesquerie, not least the e-mails, sure to come to any parent with kids still in school anywhere in the country, offering “tips on talking to children about violence” and promising that your child’s school “has been performing lockdown drill protocols that our security team and consultants have recommended to ensure that we are prepared in the unlikely event that an incident occurs.” We have normalized gun killings to the point that we must now be reassured that, when the person with the AR-15 comes to your kid’s school, there’s a plan to cope with him. (That the planning is almost worthless is proved by the killings in Florida, where the murderer may have taken advantage of his knowledge of the lockdown protocols in order to kill more students.) Here, though, are four simple truths worth saying again, in the aftermath of the Florida massacre, about gun control and gun violence.

1. The gun lobby, and the Republican Party it controls, have accepted as a matter of necessity the ongoing deaths of hundreds of children as the price that they are prepared to pay for the fetishization of weapons. The claim of this lobby’s complicity in murder is not exaggerated or hysterical but, by now, quite simple and precise: when you refuse to act to stop a social catastrophe from happening, you are responsible for the consequences of the social catastrophe. If you refuse to immunize your children and a measles epidemic breaks out, you are implicated in the measles. If you refuse to pay money for sewers and cholera breaks out, you are complicit in the cholera. Acts have consequences. This complicity includes all of the hand-wringers and the tut-tutters and the “nothing to be done”-ers as much as the N.R.A. hardcore. Many people have predicted, repeatedly, that one gun massacre would lead to the next—and that more gun massacres would probably take place in one year in America than in the rest of the civilized world combined—and they have been proved right, and then right again. Since everyone knew that this would happen again, those who did nothing to stop it happening again—and everything they did to see that no one else could do anything to stop it happening again—are complicit when it happens, again.

2. The claim that gun massacres are mysterious or difficult or bewildering or resistant to legislation is a lie. When people say that nothing can be done because this law wouldn’t stop this one, or that law that one, they are acting in ignorance of the most significant and obvious fact: that no other modernized society experiences remotely the frequency or the horror of American gun killings. There is no mystery at all to stopping this, if there is a minimal will to stop it. A huge, repeated body of social science shows that gun control controls gun violence, and largely eliminates gun massacres, within the normal limits of human action. (People still die of infections; that is no argument against the efficacy of antibiotics. Crimes continue on our streets; that is no argument against the thousand small sanities that have so dramatically reduced violent crime in our cities.) If we had gun laws like the gun laws in Canada or in Britain, we would have gun violence at the level that it exists in Canada and Britain. There is no special American quiddity that would alter this—to insist otherwise is as irrational as insisting that American kids shouldn’t be immunized because American kids have a different kind of immunity than other kids. They don’t. Building small barriers to gun violence reduces all gun violence. The lesson of contemporary social science is that small difficulties have great effects; make crime harder and you have much less crime. Make getting guns harder and you will have fewer people using them. Merely make gun ownership as demanding as, say, car ownership, with a license to obtain and insurance to buy, and you will see a drastic reduction in gun violence and perhaps a near-end to the mass killings of children.

3. The Second Amendment is not a barrier to gun sanity. The reading, from left to right, of the amendment was—until the day before yesterday, historically speaking—that it provided no guarantee to the individual ownership of guns. The notion that it does is novel, radical, and wrong.

4. The attempt to turn the question of gun violence into a question of mental health is obscene. Of course, people who kill children en masse are crazy. That’s the given. Saying this says nothing; every country contains mentally ill and potentially violent people. Only America arms them. When Donald Trump, who last year signed a bill to end a mild Obama-era rule designed to keep mass-killing weapons out of the hands of people with certain mental illnesses, talks about reporting people who are “mentally disturbed” to the proper authorities—well, irony piles upon irony, and the only adequate tribute is contempt and silence.

Source: The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik, February 15, 2018. The author is a staff writer, has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1986.


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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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