USA | It Is Time to End the Lethal Injection Mess

On June 23, amidst all furor over its gun rights and abortion decisions, the Supreme Court handed down a little noticed death penalty decision, Nance v Ward . In that case, a five-Justice majority ruled that death row inmates could file suits using 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, a federal law that authorizes citizens to sue in federal court for the deprivation of rights, to bring suit alleging that an execution method violated the Eighth Amendment. Michael Nance, who was sentenced to death in 2002, will now be able to proceed with his suit contesting Georgia’s plan to execute him by lethal injection. Nance suffers from medical conditions that have compromised his veins. To use lethal injection, the only execution method now authorized by state law, prison authorities would have to “cut his neck” to establish an intravenous execution line. He also claims that his long-time use of a drug for back pain would diminish the effect of the sedative used in Georgia’s drug cocktail. Nance alleges that

USA | Witness: In ​‘Surreal’ Event, Possibly Innocent Death-Row Prisoner Helped Arizona Executioners Find a Vein After They Failed to Set IV Line

At his June 8, 2022 execution in Arizona, Frank Atwood helped prison officials find a suitable vein for the IV line that would administer the lethal-injection drugs to end his life. 

Jimmy Jenkins, a reporter at the Arizona Republic who witnessed the execution, called the experience of watching Atwood direct the state to his vein “surreal.” He wrote in his account of the execution that “I have witnessed life. And I have witnessed death. But nothing could have prepared me for the surreal spectacle I witnessed during the execution of Frank Atwood.”

Jenkins takes readers through the day of the execution and a step-by-step account of the execution itself in his June 8, 2022 story “Behind the black curtain: Republic reporter describes ‘surreal’ Frank Atwood execution.” After the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) refused to let Jenkins attend the execution as a media witness, he joined Atwood’s group of witnesses for the day — which included Atwood’s wife of 30 years and his attorneys. In summarizing his experience witnessing the execution, Jenkins wrote, “I have looked behind the curtain of capital punishment and seen it for what it truly is: a frail old man lifted from a wheelchair onto a handicap accessible lethal injection gurney; nervous hands and perspiring faces trying to find a vein; needles puncturing skin; liquid drugs flooding a man’s existence and drowning it out.”

Execution team members initially attempted to insert an IV and catheter into Atwood’s left arm, but failed. Jenkins says they went next for Atwood’s femoral vein, which had been used by executioners to establish an IV line in Clarence Dixon’s body during his botched execution one month prior. “Why?” Jenkins records Atwood asking. “They draw blood from my right arm with no problem all the time.” “Could you try the hand?” Atwood then asked the execution team. “They have been able to go in there before as well.” Atwood, who maintained his innocence through the years between his death sentence and execution, suffered from a degenerative spinal condition and needed to be pushed in a wheelchair to the execution chamber and propped on a medical pillow during the execution.

Later in the article, Jenkins notes that a former ADOC executioner said that no prison medical staff participated in executions because of the Hippocratic Oath. ADOC execution teams, the ADOC executioner indicated, were made up of prison employees who used prosthetic arms to practice and who had little to no medical background.

“Atwood’s suggestion to find a vein in his right hand proved effective,” Jenkins wrote. “They were able to get the second IV in and secure the catheter. They taped everything down, attached the tubes that connect to the drugs, and left the room. By my estimate, the process took about 30 minutes.” Atwood was executed after directing the execution team to his vein.

“People told me I might experience shock, but watching the state of Arizona put Frank Atwood to death for the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson did more than stun me — it changed me, fundamentally, as a person,” he wrote. “I have written extensively about Atwood’s case. I listened to the victim’s family talk about the pain and suffering the murder of Vicki Lynne, and subsequent court case, caused them — the generational trauma it left with their family and the community of Tucson. I talked with every attorney I know about the process and asked questions about what I was about to witness. But I was not prepared to see the act of capital punishment carried out in front of me.”

“The state of Arizona conducts executions in all of our names. I thought I understood the weight of that process, but now I feel the reality of it. We killed a man today. I killed a man today. And I will live with that realization for the rest of my life,” Jenkins concluded.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center, Staff, June 15, 2022

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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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