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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Oklahoma: Execution protocol misses deadline; no date to resume

Nitrogen gas
Despite promises to have a new execution protocol drafted by July, officials said this week that implementation remains unfinished with no planned date for executions to resume.

Officials with the Attorney General's Office and the Department of Corrections, meanwhile, now say there is no estimated completion date for the state's new nitrogen hypoxia protocol.

"I don't know that there's necessarily been a holdup," said Matt Elliott, a corrections spokesman. "We're still working with the AG's Office in developing a protocol that is effective and humane."

In March, Attorney General Mike Hunter and Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh announced Oklahoma would stop using lethal injection because the execution drugs were increasingly difficult to obtain.

The officials said they planned to implement a 2015 law that allows executions using nitrogen hypoxia. If successfully implemented, Oklahoma would become the first state to execute inmates using the untried method of inert gases.

At the time, the men said they hoped to have the new gas protocols drafted within 120 days. Executions would resume as soon as possible after that. State law also allows for executions by firing squad or electric chair.

Executions have been on hold since 2015 following several mishaps. A bungled procedure in 2014 left an inmate writhing on the gurney. In 2015, an execution was reportedly carried out with the wrong drug, and a 2nd halted after a similar issue was discovered.

Meanwhile, 16 death row inmates have exhausted all appeals and are awaiting execution dates, according to state records. A 17th inmate, who also had exhausted all appeals, committed suicide earlier this year.

"It's really just about getting it right," said Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for the AG's Office. "It's important to get it right. And (the Department of Corrections) is still working on the protocol."

Hunter's office will review the protocol after it's completed.

Typically, officials don't tell anyone when states start working on new execution protocols, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. The nonprofit provides information and analysis on death penalty issues.

Oklahoma officials had to reveal their plans because the state remains under court order not to conduct any executions until it has a new protocol in place that can survive legal challenges, he said.

"It reached the point that it had to say something to show it was doing something to move forward," Dunham said.

Still, it's not unusual for states to spend at least a year developing protocols, he said.

What is unusual is that Oklahoma publicly said it could develop a protocol for new execution method within 120 days, he said.

"I think that they did not appreciate the difficulty in ironing out all the details, and I think that's in large measure because the Legislature acted first and left it to the department to investigate what was really necessary to bring it to reality," Dunham said.

He said Oklahoma officials may be grappling with concerns about how to safety administer the deadly, odorless gas without poisoning prison employees and execution bystanders as well as design and cost questions.

"It did not appear that the Oklahoma (Legislature) had taken into consideration all of the difficulties in using nitrogen hypoxia in carrying out executions," Dunham said. "The bill rocketed through the Legislature without much critical thought."

Source: Tahlequah Daily Press, August 10, 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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