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

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…

Kentucky Lawmakers Mull Changes To Death Penalty

Welcome to Kentucky
Death penalty supporters and opponents both say that Kentucky's capital punishment system is too expensive, lengthy and in need of reform.

Kentucky has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 2010, but state prosecutors still pursue capital punishment in more than 50 cases every year.

During a legislative hearing on Friday, Louisville Republican Rep. Jason Nemes said that the death penalty needs to be sought only in the most extreme circumstances.

"We have human frailties and pressures: we elect our prosecutors, we elect our judges. That provides pressure to people," Nemes said.

"And sometimes that's not a good thing, especially when we're dealing with the mechanics of death."

There are 32 men and 1 woman on death row in Kentucky right now - 9 of the inmates were sentenced more than 30 years ago but have pursued lengthy appeals.

And all of those court costs add up. According to the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, death penalty prosecution, defense and court proceedings add up to about $10 million each year.

Damon Preston, Kentucky's chief public advocate, says that pursuing the death penalty is inefficient because of how complicated the cases are and how rarely juries come back recommending the death penalty.

"They do have a mentality that this is for the worst of the worst, and Kentucky juries by and large are not returning death penalty verdicts," Preston said.

"When a person's life is on the line, courts look at that very carefully and that's why we have convictions reversed even if the person is otherwise guilty, they're entitled to a fair process."

Kentucky has put 3 people to death since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

The state's last execution was in 2008, when Marco Allen Chapman was put to death by lethal injection for stabbing and raping a woman and killing her 2 children in Gallatin County in 2002.

Rep. John Blanton, a Republican from Salyersville, said that the state needs to find a way to speed up the appellate process to provide victims with closure.

"The problem is not the death sentence, the problem is the length of time we allow these people to look for everything under the sun, to nitpick and dot every "I" and cross every "t" to find something that allows them to get out of the death sentence for something that they did," Blanton said.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued an injunction on Kentucky's death penalty in 2010 over concerns about whether lethal injection causes pain or suffering that would violate the state constitution.

Last month, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state to use an IQ test to determine if death row inmates are mentally competent, saying courts have to assess whether defendants are able to learn basic skills or adjust their behavior in order to sentenced them to death.

About 2/3 of Kentuckians support capital punishment, according to a Bluegrass Poll from 2013.

Source: WFPL news, July 7, 2018

State looking at death penalty protocols

Jury box
Kentucky has executed 163 people since 1910 but only one since 2008 and only three since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976.

Currently there are 31 people - including 1 woman - on death row in Kentucky. On average, a person condemned to die in Kentucky spends more than 24 years on death row.

Department of Justice officials are re-writing regulations and protocols governing executions in the state in the wake of a court injunction which found existing protocols insufficient, according to Andrew English, General Counsel for the Justice Cabinet.

Courts have also recently ruled the state can no longer rely on a strict line of an I.Q. of 70 to determine whether the condemned are mentally capable of understanding the process.

English told the Interim Joint Judiciary Committee Friday the new regulations will address increased access to counsel for the condemned, moving from a 2-drug protocol for administering the death penalty, and new guidelines to assess the mental capacity of the condemned prisoners.

"I feel confident the new regulations address the (courts') concerns," English said.

But the courts aren't the only ones concerned about the effectiveness, morality and efficiency of the death penalty. That was clear from lawmakers' questions and from testimony of others at Friday's committee meeting.

"We are not imposing it in fair and timely manner," said Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, who said while he has conflicts about the death penalty, he generally supports it for especially heinous crimes.

Chase Law School Professor Michael Mannheimer reviewed for the committee findings of an American Bar Association study of the death penalty in Kentucky which found a "high error rate in Kentucky" where 50 of 78 prisoners sentenced to death since 1976 had their convictions overturned because of trial error - a rate of 60 %.
Other findings by the ABA: Kentucky law also does not require the preservation of biological or DNA evidence through the actual execution of condemned prisoners; it does not require the recording of entire suspect interrogations; and a survey of jurors in capital cases found jurors often don't understand jury instructions.
Mannheimer said the study also discovered that 10 of the 78 sentenced to death were represented by attorneys who were later disbarred.

In answer to those who say imprisoning violent offenders for life is more expensive than the death penalty, Kentucky's chief public advocate Damon Preston told lawmakers that most of the cost of capital cases occurs at the front end, at trial rather than on appeal or on death row.

But Commonwealth Attorneys Chris Cohron of Warren County and Brian Wright of Adair and Casey counties said prosecutors don't seek the death penalty capriciously.

Wright said prosecutors weigh the nature of the crime and the defendant's prior criminal record as well as input from law enforcement agencies.

"Ultimately, the decision falls on the judge after a jury of 12 people convicts the person of a crime and then 12 jurors find the death penalty is appropriate," Wright said.

Cohron said some crimes are so horrific they call for the death penalty, describing a case he prosecuted where a woman kidnapped a pregnant woman, killed her and removed the baby by performing a rudimentary C-section.

But even the lawmakers are divided on the issue - and not along party lines.

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, a retired Kentucky State Police officer, said he remains a proponent of the death penalty and asked who advocates for the victims killed by perpetrators.

His Republican House colleague, Jason Nemes of Louisville and an attorney opposes the death penalty.

"Kentucky should get out of the business of killing its people - period," Nemes said. "We should end the death penalty and it can't come soon enough."

Source: Richmond Register, July 7, 2018

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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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