Oklahoma Postpones Execution After First Is Botched- Clayton Lockett, stay for Warner


April 29, 2014

McALESTER, Okla. — What was supposed to be the first of two executions here Tuesday night was halted when the prisoner, Clayton D. Lockett, began to twitch and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “man” and “something’s wrong,” according to witnesses.

The administering doctor intervened and discovered that “the line had blown,” said the director of corrections, Robert Patton, meaning that drugs were no longer flowing into his vein.

At 7:06 p.m., Mr. Patton said, Mr. Lockett died of a heart attack.

Mr. Patton said he had requested a stay of 14 days in the second execution scheduled for Tuesday night, of Charles F. Warner.

It was a chaotic and disastrous step in Oklahoma’s long effort to execute the two men, overcoming their objections that the state would not disclose the source of the drugs being used in a newly tried combination.

  It did not appear that any of the drugs themselves failed, but rather the method of administration, but it resulted in what witnesses called an agonizing scene.

“This was botched, and it was difficult to watch,” said David Autry, one of Mr. Lockett’s lawyers.

A doctor started to administer the first drug, a sedative intended to knock the man out, at 6:23. Ten minutes later, the doctor said that Mr. Lockett was unconscious, and started to administer the next two drugs, a paralytic and one intended to make the heart stop.

At that point, witnesses said, things began to go awry. Mr. Lockett’s body moved, his foot shook, and he mumbled, witnesses said. 

At 6 :37, he tried to rise and exhaled loudly. At that point, prison officials pulled a curtain in front of the witnesses and the doctor discovered a “vein failure,” Mr. Patton said.

The appeals for disclosure about the drug sources, supported by a state court in March, threw Oklahoma’s highest courts and elected officials into weeks of conflict and disarray, with courts arguing over which should consider the request for a politically unpopular stay of execution, the governor defying the State Supreme Court’s ruling for a delay, and a legislator seeking impeachment of the justices.

The planned executions of Mr. Lockett, 38, and Mr. Warner, 46, dramatized the growing tension nationally over secrecy in lethal injections as drug companies, saying they are fearful of political and even physical attack, refuse to supply drugs, and many states scramble to find new sources and try untested combinations. Several states have imposed secrecy on the suppliers of lethal injection drugs, leading to court battles over due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Lawyers for the two convicts said the lack of supplier information made it impossible to know if the drugs were safe and effective, or might possibly violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Officials swore that the drugs were obtained legally from licensed pharmacies, and had not expired. Gov. Mary Fallin, expressing the sentiment of many here, said: “Two men that do not contest their guilt in heinous murders will now face justice.”

But that question was overshadowed by Tuesday night’s disastrous mishap, which is certain to generate more challenges to lethal injection, long considered the most humane of execution methods.

 Mr. Lockett was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman in 1999 and having her buried alive. Mr. Warner, condemned for the rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl in 1997, was to be executed two hours later. .

The two men spent Tuesday in adjacent cells, visited by their lawyers and, in Mr. Warner’s case, family members. The hulking white penitentiary here in a small town of southeast Oklahoma, amid prairies now green from soaking spring rains, is the prison from which Tom Joad is paroled in the opening pages of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

In keeping with the untried drug protocol announced by the Corrections Department this month, Mr. Lockett was first injected with midazolam, a benzodiazepine intended to render the prisoner unconscious and unable to feel pain. This was followed by injections of vecuronium bromide, a paralyzing agent that stops breathing, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

This combination has been used in Florida, but with a much higher dose of midazolam than Oklahoma is planning to use. Without effective sedation, the second two drugs are known to cause agonizing suffocation and pain.

Oklahoma and other states have turned to compounding pharmacies — lightly regulated laboratories that mix up drugs to order. Opponents have raised questions about quality control, especially after the widely reported dying gasps of a convict in Ohio for more than 10 minutes, and an Oklahoma inmate’s utterance, “I feel my whole body burning,” after being injected with compounded drugs.

Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner were scheduled to be executed in March, but officials said they had been unable to buy the drugs, and the executions were delayed. Oklahoma later said it had found a federally approved manufacturer to provide the drugs, but refused to identify it.

Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, derided the lawsuits over drug secrecy, calling them delaying tactics. Many legal experts, especially death penalty opponents, say otherwise.

“Information on the drug that is intended to act as the anesthetic is crucial to ensure that the execution will be humane,” said Jennifer Moreno, a lawyer with the Berkeley Law School’s Death Penalty Clinic.

Elsewhere, Texas has refused to reveal where it obtained a new batch of compounded drugs; a challenge is before the State Supreme Court. Georgia passed a law last year making information about lethal drug suppliers a “confidential state secret”; a challenge is also pending in that state’s top court.

This month, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear suits attacking drug secrecy in Missouri and Louisiana.

But three of the justices expressed interest and the issue seems likely to be considered by the Supreme Court at some point, said Eric M. Freedman, a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University who considers the secrecy a violation of due process.

In March, it appeared that Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner had won the right to know more about the drugs when an Oklahoma judge ruled that the secrecy law was unconstitutional. But the judge said she did not have the authority to grant the men stays of execution, sending the inmates into a Kafkaesque legal maze.

The state has an unusual court system, sending criminal appeals to a top criminal court and civil matters to its Supreme Court. The Court of Criminal Appeals repeatedly turned back the Supreme Court’s order to rule on a stay, while the attorney general insisted that the executions would go ahead.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court said that to avoid a miscarriage of justice, it would delay the executions until it had time to resolve the secrecy matter.

The next day, Governor Fallin, a Republican, said the Supreme Court had overstepped its powers, and directed officials to carry out both executions on April 29. An outraged legislator, Representative Mike Christian, said he would seek to impeach the justices, who were already under fire from conservative legislators for striking down laws the court deemed unconstitutional.

A constitutional crisis appeared to be brewing. But last Wednesday, the Supreme Court announced a decision on the secrecy issue — overturning the lower court and declaring that the executions could proceed.

Oklahoma: Clayton Lockett execution


April 29, 2014

Clayton Lockett’s execution was slated to begin at 6:00p.m.

At 6:37 Clayton Lockett was not unconscious and said something is wrong.

Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections closed the blinds on Clayton Lockett at 6:39

Execution stopped at 6:39 after Clayton Lockett started moving and talking.

Clayton Lockett’s execution has been suspended.

The state of Oklahoma has botched the execution of Clayton Lockett. His status is unknown right now.

Execution of Clayton Lockett failed. Execution of Charles Warner stayed by corrections director Robert Patton.

BREAKING

Clayton Lockett died inside the execution chamber at 7:06 pm of a massive heart attack according to DOC officials.

Oklahoma halts execution after botching delivery of new drug combination, postpones 2nd execution

Source: Agencies, April 29, 2014

VIRGINIA – Former Marine Sentenced to Die in Sailor’s Slaying


April 25, 2014

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An ex-Marine was sentenced to death Thursday for murdering a fellow service member in 2009, after a federal jury concluded he had been responsible for a series of violent, sexually motivated attacks on women and young girls over the last nine years.

The jury deliberated for less than four hours before sentencing jorg, of Zion, Ill., to death for the murder of Navy Petty Officer Amanda Snell, a Las Vegas native, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, in a barracks where both lived a few doors down from each other.

On the verdict form, the jury also unanimously concluded that Torrez also killed two young girls — 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias — in 2005 in his hometown of Zion, when he was just 16.

After Torrez was found guilty earlier this month of Navy Petty Officer Amanda Snell’s murder, Torrez ordered his lawyers not to put on any defense or question the government’s case during the trial’s sentencing phase. On Thursday, during closing arguments in the morning and when the verdict was read in the afternoon, Torrez sat impassively in front of the jury in his green jail jumpsuit, forgoing the civilian clothes he has worn all trial.

His lawyer, Robert Jenkins, left little doubt that Torrez preferred a death sentence to life in prison, though he would not directly confirm it.

“My client certainly had a goal, and I think in his mind, he achieved that goal, and I think he welcomed it,” Jenkins said. “It wasn’t as much a trial as it was an assisted suicide.”

During Thursday’s closing arguments, prosecutor James Trump emphasized to the jury that Snell’s murder was far from his only crime. The Illinois girls’ murders were especially brutal — jurors saw gruesome photos of Hobbs’ body with stab wounds to the eyes that medical experts concluded occurred while she was still alive. Semen found on Hobbs was linked by DNA evidence to Torrez.

And in 2010, Torrez committed a series of stalking attacks on three women in northern Virginia, including one who was raped, choked and left for dead. It was Torrez’s arrest in those cases that helped investigators tie him to Snell’s murder and the Illinois slayings. He is already serving a life sentence for the Arlington attacks.

Until his arrest in Virginia, Trump told jurors, Torrez believed he had literally gotten away with murder.

But Torrez bragged about the killings to another inmate after his arrest in the Arlington attacks, and prosecutors played recordings of those confessions to the jury in which he laughed about the killings and showed no remorse.

Trump reminded jurors that Torrez bragged about being “an army of one” while preying on defenseless children.

“There’s no room for doubt. Jorge Torrez deserves to die,” Trump said.

Torrez is the first person since 2007 to be sentenced to death at the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Torrez will join 59 other prisoners on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Torrez will be formally sentenced May 30. The judge, Liam O’Grady, does not have the option to change the death sentence, unless he finds some sort of legal error.

The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003. Jenkins said that some of the usual appellate steps in a capital case will be carried out whether Torrez acquiesces to them or not. Other appeals, Jenkins said, are voluntary, so the length of the appeals process could be shortened considerably if Torrez maintains his current stance.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said it is highly unusual among the federal death row inmates to have a defendant who does not fight to stop his execution. Dieter said Torrez’s stance “creates a lot of unknowns” but agreed that it could result in a dramatically shorter appeals process.

Just because an inmate wants to be executed, though, doesn’t mean it will happen automatically, Dieter said. Legal challenges, such as the constitutionality of the lethal injection process, can potentially affect all death-row inmates and not just those who have filed the challenge, he said.

Oklahoma executions back on, as court rules to keep lethal-drug sources secret


April 25, 2014

CNN) — Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner’s executions are back on the schedule for next week after Oklahoma’s high court lifted their stays, saying they had no right to know the source of the drugs that will be used to kill them.

The inmates, who are being held at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where they are slated to be executed by lethal injection Tuesday, had challenged the state’s so-called secrecy provision, which forbids disclosing the identities of anyone involved in the execution process or suppliers of any drugs or medical equipment.

Lockett and Warner also challenged the state Department of Corrections’ failure to divulge which drugs would be used, but the department disclosed what drugs it intended to use before the high court’s decision: midazolam, which causes unconsciousness, along with pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which shut down breathing and the heart.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court said the only remaining issue, then, is whether the state’s failure to disclose its source for the drugs prevents the prisoners from challenging their executions using the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The court decided it did not.

“This court holds that the secrecy provision … does not violate the inmates’ constitutional right of access to the courts,” the Wednesday ruling said.

Attorney Seth Day, who represents both men, called the ruling unacceptable and told CNN affiliate KFOR that there was no way to know if the prisoners’ executions “would be carried out in a constitutional and humane manner.”

“It’s not even known whether the lethal injection drugs to be used were obtained legally, and nothing is known about their source, purity, or efficacy, among other questions,” he told the station. “Oklahoma’s extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection undermines our courts and democracy.”

Attorney General Scott Pruitt applauded the decision, saying the state had a longstanding precedent of keeping the drug sources secret to avoid “schemes and intimidation used by defense counsel and other anti-death-penalty groups.”

“These death row inmates have not contested their guilt for murdering two innocent victims nor have they contested their sentences of death. The legal wrangling of the attorneys for Lockett and Warner has served only to delay their punishment for the heinous crimes they committed,” he told KFOR.

Lockett was convicted in 2000 of a bevy of crimes, including first-degree murder, first-degree rape, kidnapping and robbery in a 1999 home invasion and crime spree that left Stephanie Nieman dead and two people injured. In 2003, Warner was convicted for the 1997 first-degree rape and murder of his then-girlfriend’s 11-month-old daughter, Adrianna Waller.

The constitutionality of lethal injection drugs and drug cocktails has made headlines since last year, when European manufacturers — including Denmark-based Lundbeck, which manufactures pentobarbital — banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions. Thirty-two states were left to find new drug protocols.

“The states are scrambling to find the drugs,” Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, said in November. “They want to carry out these executions that they have scheduled, but they don’t have the drugs and they’re changing and trying new procedures never used before in the history of executions.”

If Lockett and Warner are executed next week, they would be the 194th and 195th inmates Oklahoma has executed since 1915.

Georgia Governor Signs Bill Allowing Guns In Bars, Churches, Libraries And Schools


April 23, 2014

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) just signed a law former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-AZ) organization described as “the most extreme gun bill in America.” The new law allows guns in bars, churches, nightclubs and libraries. It eliminates criminal charges against people who accidentally bring guns into airports or other buildings where guns are prohibited. It expands Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law so that felons may invoke this defense. And it permits certain schoolteachers and administrators to carry firearms inside their schools.

The new law is actually more moderate than an earlier draft of the legislation, which would have limited the punishment for carrying a gun on college campuses and which did not include a provision requiring people who want to bring a gun to worship services to obtain permission to do so. Nevertheless, the bill demonstrates how rapidly gun politics shifted to the right in Georgia. Last year, a less comprehensive bill allowing guns in bars and places of worship passed the Georgia house but failed to clear the state senate.

The provision authorizing guns in bars is especially likely to result in an uptick of violence. According to Washington State University Sociology Professor Jennifer Schwartz, “40% of male [homicide] offenders were drinking alcohol at the time” of their offense, and about one in three female offenders were also drinking.

thinkprogress.org)

Florida executes Robert Hendrix


April 23, 2014

STARKE, Florida — Florida executed a man by lethal injection at 6:21 p.m. Wednesday at Florida State Prison in Starke. He was convicted of the 1990 murders of Elmer and Michelle Scott at their Lake County home.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Hendrix’s last-minute request for a stay without comment. He ate a last meal of pork chops, sausage gravy and biscuits, German chocolate cake and a soft drink, state corrections officials said.
Prosecutors said Hendrix killed the couple because Elmer Scott intended to testify against him. But Hendrix’s attorney said there was no forensic evidence linking his client to the murders and that the witnesses against him were unreliable.
Hendrix becomes the fourth person executed in Florida this year and the 16th since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011.

Oklahoma governor says executions to proceed despite court-ordered stays


April 23, 2014

A day after the Oklahoma supreme court issued a stay of execution for two convicted killers, the governor issued her own order on Tuesday that the state would carry out their sentences next week, setting up a possible legal confrontation over constitutional powers.

Republican governor Mary Fallin said the state supreme court acted “outside the constitutional authority” of its mandate in staying Clayton Lockett’s execution. She granted a stay of seven days for Lockett, escheduling his execution for 29 April, the same day condemned inmate Charles Warner is scheduled to be executed. But legal experts said the supreme court’s stays must be followed and the governor lacks the power to reset the date.

“Governor Fallin is a politician, and not a lawyer,” said Randall Coyne, a constitutional law expert at the University of Oklahoma. “According to well established precedent of the US supreme court, the courts – not executive officials – have the final word on what is constitutional. She of course has the right to disagree with judicial decisions, but they remain the law. The governor is dangerously close to precipitating a constitutional crisis.”

The day before Lockett’s planned execution, the Oklahoma supreme court on Monday indefinitely delayed his and Warner’s executions while they challenge the constitutionality of a law that keeps secret the source of the state’s execution drugs. The state’s highest court stepped in after two weeks of legal tussles in which it and the court of criminal appeals both said they did not have the authority to grant a stay.

On Tuesday, the office of the attorney general, Scott Pruitt, asked the state supreme court to rehear the case, arguing the court had caused chaos for the bifurcated appeals system of the state. The supreme court denied that petition 6 to 3 on Tuesday, essentially rejecting Pruitt’s questioning of the court’s jurisdiction.

Fallin then stepped in with an executive order, telling Pruitt’s office to file papers with the Oklahoma court of criminal appeals that would give her a blueprint as to how to implement the execution order.

And separately, the Associated Press reported that a member of the Oklahoma House drafted a resolution on Wednesday seeking the impeachment of state supreme court justices who granted the delay.

Republican state representative Mike Christian told The Associated Press that the five justices engaged in a “willful neglect of duty” when they granted stays of execution. An impeachment effort would have no impact on the current proceedings

“This is a case of our state’s judges inserting their personal biases and political opinions into the equation,” Christian told the Associated Press.

Eric M Freedman, a constitutional law expert at Hofstra University, said Fallin’s order is “pure political posturing”.

“The probability that the state will succeed in carrying out the executions in defiance of the stays entered by the Oklahoma supreme court hovers between zilch and zero,” he said.

Lockett and Warner challenged the constitutionality of an Oklahoma law that keeps the source of execution drugs secret. An Oklahoma county district court judge ruled in their favor in March, and judge Patricia Parrish said the statute violated their right to due process. Lawyers for Lockett and Warner say it would be “unthinkable” to carry out the executions while that challenge is unresolved.

Oklahoma attorney Stephen Jones, a Republican who served as counsel to Republican governors, said Tuesday’s developments were about politics, and Fallin has made a power grab of the state judiciary.

“It gives them something to campaign upon,” Jones said.

He said executing the men despite the court’s stay would create a “nasty confrontation” that the governor and attorney general would legally lose.

“She should have stayed out of it and let the courts work it out. She doesn’t really have a dog in the fight. Frankly I think it’s a sign of weakness on the part of the attorney general that he got the governor to do that. Scott Pruitt has not practiced much as a lawyer,” Jones added.

Brady R Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said the governor can delay an execution, but her resetting of the execution date is unlikely to hold up legally.

“The Oklahoma constitution simply does not give her the power to do that,” Henderson said.

“It is important to remember that the entire matter comes from a relatively simple request from two condemned men to find out about the drugs that would be used to kill them,” he said. “There are serious concerns about the conduct of the lethal injection process, and an Oklahoma law attempts to bar the inmates and everybody else from finding out important information about the process. In other words, it puts a veil of secrecy over one of the most grave functions of state government – killing its own citizens.”

Texas prisons violate international human rights standards, report says


April 23, 2014

Summer in Texas prisons is so sweltering that the heat violates international human rights standards and has caused the deaths of at least 14 inmates since 2007, according to a new study.

The extreme temperatures in state-run facilities also breach the US constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments, said the report released on Tuesday by the Austin-based Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law.

It cites a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) temperature log that showed a heat index of at least 65C (149F) at 10:30am at a unit in Dallas on 19 July 2011. Heat index is a way of measuring how hot it feels by combining temperature and humidity. The National Weather Service issues extreme heat alerts when the index is expected to exceed 105-110F for two consecutive days or more.

“Over the years, TDCJ facilities seem to have seen little improvement, completely disregarding the rights and dignity of its inmates. Since 2007, at least fourteen inmates have died from extreme heat in nine different TDCJ prisons,” the report states.

There are about 150,000 people incarcerated in TDCJ prisons. Most facilities do not have air conditioning other than in medical, psychiatric and geriatric buildings. The study calls for TDCJ to install air conditioning to keep temperatures in housing areas below 85F *(29,4C). Until that is achieved it suggests officials should screen and monitor susceptible prisoners and provide easy access to cool liquids and ice. It also recommends that the TDCJ set a temperature limit for prisoners’ cells, as is the case in county jails and in other states.

“There is no standard of how hot a person could get. That shows that Texas is behind many other southern states – Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, all of them have different standards. Some of them establish 85F as the maximum temperature in a prison,” the clinic’s director, Ariel Dulitzky, told the Guardian.

“We are convinced that Texas is breaking international human rights laws and US constitutional law,” he said. “We believe it’s a lack of political will from the authorities at the TDCJ, they refuse to acknowledge there’s a problem … There’s a belief that everybody suffers extreme heat in Texas and that is true. The difference is that I can be in my office and have air conditioning.”

The report said that 92 correctional officers suffered heat-related injuries or illnesses in 2012. “We’re placing these employees at great risk by working in these type of conditions without any climate control,” said Lance Lowry, a correctional officer and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union branch in Huntsville, where Texas’s state prison system has its headquarters.

Lowry said that some officers have passed out or vomited. “We’ve had numerous members report getting extremely ill at work from extreme heat. A lot of these officers are in prisons wearing stab-resistant vests which hold a lot of heat,” he told the Guardian, adding that the conditions harmed productivity and safety.

“There’s definitely a problem among inmates who are on psychiatric medications. A lot of those medications are heat-reactive, and what we’ve seen is inmates during hot times will stop taking these medications that normally keep them calm. Once they stop taking these medications they become more aggressive towards staff,” he said.

Lowry thinks that in the long run it would be cheaper to install air conditioning than to keep paying for medical treatment made necessary by the heat.

“The wellbeing of staff and offenders is a top priority for the agency and we remain committed to making sure that both are safe during the extreme heat,” Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman, said in a statement.

“TDCJ takes precautions to help reduce heat-related illnesses such as providing water and ice to staff and offenders in work and housing areas, restricting offender activity during the hottest parts of the day, and training staff to identify those with heat related illnesses and refer them to medical staff for treatment. Although a detailed cost analysis has not been done, retrofitting facilities with air conditioning would be extremely expensive.

“Dulitzky plans to submit the report’s findings to the relevant United Nations bodies and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, while the Texas Civil Rights Project has filed lawsuits against TDCJ on behalf of some inmates and their families.

Texas prison officials do appear willing to spend generously on cooling equipment in certain circumstances. It was reported last year that TDCJ signed a $750,000 deal to buy climate-controlled housing for its pig-breeding programme.

“We need to have a grown-up discussion of what’s practical and reasonable and what’s politically acceptable,” Texas senate Criminal Justice committee chairman John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, told the Houston Chronicle. “But I can tell you, the people of Texas don’t want air-conditioned prisons, and there’s a lot of other things on my list above the heat. It’s hot in Texas, and a lot of Texans who are not in prison don’t have air conditioning.”

theguardian.com)

Prosecutors ask Arizona court to order execution


April 23, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) — State prosecutors are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to order the execution of a man sentenced to death for killing his estranged girlfriend and her father in Pima County nearly a quarter-century ago.

The Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday asked for a warrant scheduling the execution of 55-year-old Joseph Rudolph Wood III for the 1989 killings of Debra and Eugene Dietz.

Appeals courts have upheld Wood’s convictions and death sentence and the Attorney General’s Office says Wood has exhausted his appeals and has no action pending in any court.

A defense lawyer for Wood, assistant public defender Dale Baich (bache), says the Department of Corrections‘ recent decision to use a two-drug combination for executions is “novel and highly untested.”

US – UPCOMING EXECUTIONS MAY 2014


Dates are subject to change due to stays and appeals

April 23

May
13 TEXAS Robert Campbell
21 TEXAS Robert Pruett
21 MISSOURI Russell Bucklew
28 OHIO Arthur Tyler
29 TEXAS Edgardo Cubas (Foreign National) – STAYED
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