Lethal Injection

States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.


December 11, 2017

The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.

As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.

States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.

The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this spring as a backup method – something no state or country has tried. Officials have yet to say whether it would be delivered in a gas chamber or through a gas mask.

Other states have passed laws authorizing a return to older methods, such as the firing squad and the electric chair.

“We’re in a new era,” said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University. “States have now gone through all the drugs closest to the original ones for lethal injection. And the more they experiment, the more they’re forced to use new drugs that we know less about in terms of how they might work in an execution.”

Supporters of capital punishment blame critics for the crisis, which comes amid a sharp decline in the number of executions and decreasing public support for the death penalty. As of late November, 23 inmates had been put to death in 2017 – fewer than in all but one year since 1991. Nineteen states no longer have capital punishment, with a third of those banning it in the past decade.

“If death penalty opponents were really concerned about inmates’ pain, they would help reopen the supply,” said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which advocates the rights of crime victims. Opponents “caused the problem we’re in now by forcing pharmaceuticals to cut off the supply to these drugs. That’s why states are turning to less-than-optimal choices.”

Prison officials in Nevada and Nebraska have declined to answer questions about why they chose to use fentanyl in their next executions, which could take place in early 2018. Many states shroud their procedures in secrecy to try to minimize legal challenges.

But fentanyl offers several advantages. The obvious one is potency. The synthetic drug is 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

“There’s cruel irony that at the same time these state governments are trying to figure out how to stop so many from dying from opioids, that they now want to turn and use them to deliberately kill someone,” said Austin Sarat, a law professor at Amherst College who has studied the death penalty for more than four decades.

Another plus with fentanyl: It is easy to obtain. Although the drug has rocketed into the news because of the opioid crisis, doctors frequently use it to anesthetize patients for major surgery or to treat severe pain in patients with advanced cancer.

Nevada officials say they had no problem buying fentanyl.

“We simply ordered it through our pharmaceutical distributor, just like every other medication we purchase, and it was delivered,” Brooke Keast, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections, said in an email. “Nothing out of the ordinary at all.”

The state, which last put someone to death in 2006, had planned its first fentanyl-assisted execution for November. The inmate involved, 47-year-old Scott Dozier, was convicted of killing a man in a Las Vegas hotel, cutting him into pieces and stealing his money.

According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, Nevada’s protocol calls for Dozier first to receive diazepam – a sedative better known as Valium – and then fentanyl to cause him to lose consciousness. Large doses of both would cause a person to stop breathing, according to three anesthesiologists interviewed for this report.

Yet Nevada also plans to inject Dozier with a third drug, cisatracurium, to paralyze his muscles – a step medical experts say makes the procedure riskier.

“If the first two drugs don’t work as planned or if they are administered incorrectly, which has already happened in so many cases . . . you would be awake and conscious, desperate to breathe and terrified but unable to move at all,” said Mark Heath, a professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University. “It would be an agonizing way to die, but the people witnessing wouldn’t know anything had gone wrong because you wouldn’t be able to move.”

John DiMuro, who helped create the fentanyl execution protocol when he was the state’s chief medical officer, said he based it on procedures common in open-heart surgery. He included cisatracurium because of worries that the Valium and fentanyl might not fully stop an inmate’s breathing, he said. “The paralytic hastens and ensures death. It would be less humane without it.”

A judge postponed Dozier’s execution last month over concerns about the paralytic, and the case is awaiting review by Nevada’s Supreme Court. In the meantime, Nebraska is looking toward a fentanyl-assisted execution as soon as January. Jose Sandoval, the leader of a bank robbery in which five people were killed, would be the first person put to death in that state since 1997.

Sandoval would be injected with the same three drugs proposed in Nevada, plus potassium chloride to stop his heart.

Even at much lower concentrations, intravenous potassium chloride often causes a burning sensation, according to Heath. “So if you weren’t properly sedated, a highly concentrated dose would feel like someone was taking a blowtorch to your arm and burning you alive,” he said.

Fentanyl is just the latest in a long line of approaches that have been considered for capital punishment in the United States. With each, things have often gone wrong.

When hangings fell out of favor in the 19th century – because of botched cases and the drunken, carnival-like crowds they attracted – states turned to electrocution. The first one in 1890 was a grisly disaster: Spectators noticed the inmate was still breathing after the electricity was turned off, and prison officials had to zap the man all over again.

Gas chambers were similarly sold as a modern scientific solution. But one of the country’s last cyanide gas executions, in 1992, went so badly that it left witnesses crying and the warden threatening to resign rather than attempt another one.

Lethal injection, developed in Oklahoma in 1977, was supposed to solve these problems. It triggered concerns from the start, especially because of the paralytic drug used. Even so, the three-drug injection soon became the country’s dominant method of execution.

In recent years, as access to those drugs has dried up, states have tried others. Before the interest in fentanyl, many states tested a sedative called midazolam – leading to what Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called “horrifying deaths.”

Dennis McGuire, who raped and killed a pregnant newlywed in Ohio, became the first inmate on whom that state’s new protocol was tried. Soon after the 2014 execution began, his body writhed on the table as he gasped for air and made gurgling, snorting noises that sounded as though he was drowning, according to witnesses.

The same year, Oklahoma used midazolam on an inmate convicted of kidnapping and killing a teenager; authorities aborted the execution after Clayton Lockett kicked, writhed and grimaced for 20 minutes, but he died not long after. Three months later, Arizona used midazolam on Joseph Wood III, who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father. Officials injected him more than a dozen times as he struggled for almost two hours.

Like officials in other states, Arizona officials argued that the inmate did not suffer and that the procedure was not botched. Later, they said they would never again use midazolam in an execution.

Joel Zivot, a professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University, called the states’ approach ludicrous. “There’s no medical or scientific basis for any of it,” he said. “It’s just a series of attempts: obtain certain drugs, try them out on prisoners, and see if and how they die.”

The bad publicity and continuing problems with drug supply have sent some of the 31 states where capital punishment remains legal in search of options beyond lethal injection. Turning to nitrogen gas would solve at least one issue.

Nitrogen is literally in the air we breathe – you can’t cut off anyone’s supply to that,” said Scheidegger, who strongly supports the idea.

In addition to Mississippi, Oklahoma has authorized nitrogen gas as a backup to lethal injection. Corrections officials and legislators in Louisiana and Alabama have said they hope to do the same.

And yet, critics note, there is almost no scientific research to suggest that nitrogen would be more humane.

Zivot is among those skeptical that nitrogen would work as hoped.

“There’s a difference between accidental hypoxia, like with pilots passing out, and someone knowing you’re trying to kill him and fighting against it,” he said. “Have you ever seen someone struggle to breathe? They gasp until the end. It’s terrifying.”

Dozier, the inmate Nevada hopes to execute soon with fentanyl has said he would prefer death by firing squad over any other method. In more than a dozen interviews, experts on both sides of the issue expressed similar views.

Of all the lethal technology humans have invented, the gun has endured as one of the most efficient ways to kill, said Denno, who has studied the death penalty for a quarter-century.

“The reason we keep looking for something else,” she said, “is because it’s not really for the prisoner. It’s for the people who have to watch it happen. We don’t want to feel squeamish or uncomfortable. We don’t want executions to look like what they really are: killing someone.”

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Attorneys seek to ensure Scott Dozier won’t be executed until 2018


December 5, 2017

A judge in Las Vegas kept a condemned prison inmate’s execution on hold Tuesday over concerns about a never-before-tried three-drug combination planned for use during Nevada‘s first execution in more than 11 years.

Clark County District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti also said Tuesday that she wants to see written filings before she decides several other key issues.

With the Nevada Supreme Court expected to review the case and decide if Scott Raymond Dozier’s execution should go forward, Togliatti took no immediate action on a request by state and local prosecutors to reverse her Nov. 14 order halting the execution, which had been planned the same day.

State attorney general’s office lawyers say they’re drafting an appeal to the state high court of Togliatti’s order that the state Department of Corrections must remove a disputed paralytic, cisatracurium, as the third drug in a protocol using high doses of the sedative diazepam and the potent opioid fentanyl.

“You could have proceeded. He could be dead today,” the judge told attorney general solicitor Jordan Smith on Wednesday, noting that he said the state would appeal instead.

The judge added that she felt Supreme Court review of the three-drug cocktail will be important if the state wants to use it in future executions.

Togliatti canceled a Dec. 7 hearing, and made it clear that Dozier will have to wait at least several months for the execution he has said repeatedly he wants carried out.

She set a Jan. 17 hearing on a bid from the attorney general and Clark County district attorney’s offices to proceed using just diazepam and fentanyl. A medical expert witness called by federal public defenders challenging the case said those two drugs should be enough to kill the inmate.

She also is being asked to decide if federal public defenders should continue to represent Dozier in a review of the state’s proposed execution protocol.

Dozier, appearing by videoconference from Ely State Prison, did not say he wanted attorneys David Anthony and Lori Teicher to stop representing him.

Togliatti barely contained exasperation over what she termed “manipulation of the court process,” and asked the inmate if a flurry of filings in recent days meant he was asking for a “do-over” of the lengthy proceedings that began in July and required almost daily action in the run-up to the scheduled execution date.

Dozier called the months of hearings that made his case a topic of national interest “vital,” noted that they led to revisions of the protocol, and said he feels now “like I had to take a less-than-ideal option because that was the only option available.”

Dozier, 47, has been on death row since 2007 for convictions in separate murders in Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Jonathan VanBoskerck, a chief Clark County district attorney, has said that local prosecutors have an interest in seeing the penalty that Togliatti imposed 10 years ago carried out. He said Tuesday that other arguments are irrelevant since Dozier is not challenging his sentence or the process.

“The bottom line is it’s his choice,” VanBoskerck told the judge.

 

RELATED | Condemned inmate Scott Dozier complains of death penalty delay

 

ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of death row inmates against Ricketts, Corrections Department


December 5, 2017

Sandoval

ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of death row inmates that claims the ballot initiative that stopped the state Legislature’s 2015 repeal was illegal.

The complaint is an attempt to stop any executions, or even steps toward an execution, of the men on Nebraska’s death row.

Death row inmate Jose Sandoval said last week he intends to fight the execution. At that time, he had no ongoing legal actions or appeals in federal or state courts.

“My reaction to the notice (of lethal injection drugs) was not a surprise. I’ve been expecting it for a year now,” Sandoval said. “I intend to fight with the help of my attorneys — Amy Miller and company.”

The ACLU confirmed Sunday that Miller, its legal director, has been in contact with Sandoval, who was notified Nov. 9 of the state’s intention to execute him with four specified lethal injection drugs. The organization is preparing to announce the scope of its representation of Sandoval early this week, it said.

The four drugs in combination that would be used in Sandoval’s execution, if it takes place, have never been used to execute a person.

The complaint charged the ballot initiative violated the Nebraska Constitution’s separation of powers. It said Gov. Pete Ricketts was the driving force behind the 2016 referendum, exploiting government staff, resources and his own elected position to raise money for the ballot initiative and to persuade voters to support it.

“In Nebraska, our state Constitution … establishes a strong tradition with a clear separation of powers,” ACLU Executive Director Danielle Conrad said Sunday. “The governor can’t have it both ways and serve both as a member of the executive and legislative branches.”

The petition drive got underway in 2015 and the sponsoring group, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, gathered 167,000 signatures, enough to stop the repeal from being in effect until a vote in November 2016.

The Legislature had voted to repeal Nebraska’s death penalty with a bill (LB268) that passed on a 32-15 vote. Ricketts vetoed the bill and then the Legislature voted to override the veto on a 30-19 vote that cut across party lines.

Shortly after that, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty was formed and raised just over $913,000, a third of it contributed by Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts.

The governor’s actions pose important legal questions with grave consequences, Conrad said.

She said the end result of those actions was the restoration of a “broken” death penalty that is racially biased, risks execution of innocent people and raises constitutional concerns about the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

Ricketts’ office responded in a statement issued Sunday evening.

“The Governor’s Office holds itself to a high standard and follows state law regarding the use of taxpayer resources,” said Taylor Gage, the governor’s spokesman. “This liberal advocacy group has repeatedly worked to overturn the clear voice of the Nebraska people on the issue of capital punishment and waste taxpayer dollars with frivolous litigation. The administration remains committed to protecting public safety and creating a safe environment for our Corrections officers.”

The ACLU lawsuit — filed on behalf of death row inmates against Ricketts, Treasurer Don Stenberg, founders of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, Attorney General Doug Peterson, the Department of Correctional Services and Director Scott Frakes — asked the court to immediately stop all preparations for executing Sandoval and the other 10 men on death row.

Peterson plans to ask the Nebraska Supreme Court for a death warrant after 60 days following the notification of drugs that would be used.

That ACLU complaint said that as the governor, Ricketts’ power over the repeal bill ended when the Legislature overrode his veto.

It claimed the subsequent ballot initiative should not stand, as it was the result of repeated, extensive and illegal abuses of the governor’s power. The state’s constitution reserves ballot initiatives as a legislative power for the people to use as a check on the legislature, and it further prohibits anyone in one branch of government from exercising powers over another branch, the ACLU said.

Ricketts encouraged or ordered members of the executive branch and his allies in the Legislature and local governments to work for the referendum campaign or to express public support for it, the complaint said.

For example, Stenberg was simultaneously a leader of the campaign in the first few months, serving as co-chairman with Sen. Beau McCoy, the ACLU charged. In the middle of the campaign, Ricketts rewarded Jessica Flanagain, the campaign manager and coordinator, with a publicly paid position in the government as special adviser to the governor for external affairs, with a salary of $130,000, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit also noted that Nebraskans for the Death Penalty made an error that invalidated the referendum by failing to submit sworn statements from its sponsors, as required by law to assure the sponsors’ names aren’t fraudulent and assure transparency in the working of ballot campaigns.

Previous litigation more narrowly alleged the referendum petition was not legally sufficient because a list of sponsors filed with the petition did not include the name of Ricketts, who it claimed engaged in activities that established that he was a sponsor of the referendum. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding Ricketts’ alleged financial or other support of the referendum did not make him a person “sponsoring the petition.”

Death row inmate who survived his own execution really doesn’t want a do-over


November  2017

An Ohio man who became the third U.S. death row inmate in seven decades to survive his own execution filed a new appeal for mercy Tuesday, arguing that Ohio’s lethal injection protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because one of its drugs may not work properly.

Alva Campbell, a 69-year-old man sentenced to death in 1998 for killing 18-year-old Charles Dial in a robbery, had his execution halted about 25 minutes after it was scheduled to start, according to the Associated Press. The execution team, it turned out, couldn’t pinpoint a vein that they could use to inject Campbell with a dosage of lethal drugs.

In court documents filed before the execution, Campbell’s lawyers warned that this was a possibility, as Campbell has a history of chronic heart and lung problems that can make finding a vein tricky. In fact, the prison was so worried that Campbell’s lungs would give out and he would stop breathing, while lying on the execution gurney, that the team gave him a wedge pillow to help him stay calm and alive until they could execute him.

Campbell’s lawyers also cited Ohio’s bad track record when it came to successfully carrying out executions. Though the first failed execution in modern U.S. history took place in 1946, when Louisiana’s attempt to execute Willie Francis using the electric chair failed, the second was much more recent: In 2009, an Ohio execution team made 18 attempts over the course of two hours to find a vein to inject Romell Broom with lethal injection drugs. Then-Gov. Ted Strickland ultimately ordered them to give up. Broom remains on death row, locked in a court battle where he argues that trying to execute him a second time would be unconstitutional.

Alva Campbell, 69 (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction )

Campbell’s new appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court, however, technically centers around a different issue: the use of midazolam, a sedative that’s meant to render an inmate unconscious.

Midazolam has been used in several recent botched executions, including in Ohio. In 2014, the state executed convicted killer and rapist Dennis McGuire, even though McGuire reportedly gasped, snorted, and snored minutes after he should have been knocked unconscious. A judge ended up declare Ohio’s lethal injection procedure unconstitutional, leading the state to halt executions for years.

As drug manufacturers and distributors become more and more reluctant to allow their wares to be used in executions, however, states are scrambling to find drugs they can use in lethal injections. That’s led midazolam’s popularity to skyrocket.

Evidence “from recent executions demonstrates the disturbing signs that prisoners remain sensate to severe pain, aware, and conscious following injection of 500 mg. of midazolam or more are ‘the rule,’ not ‘the exception,’” Campbell’s lawyers write in his latest appeal.

Campbell’s new execution date is June 6, 2019.

South Carolina has no drugs left to execute Death Row cop killer


Novembre  29,  2017

A death row inmate is due to die in just two days on Friday 1 December – but the state of South Carolina has none of the drugs it needs to kill him.

Bobby Wayne Stone, now 52, was sentenced to death back in 1997 after he was convicted of murder and first degree burglary. On 26 February, 1996 Stone roamed the woods while drinking beer and shooting his guns – a shotgun and a pistol. At one point, he left off gunshots outside a woman’s home and then, when Sergeant Charles Kubala responded, shot three or four more times. Kubala, who was hit once in the neck and once in the ear, died at the scene.

After many years of legal wrangling, including appeals against his murder conviction and death sentence at the Supreme Court, Stone was finally given an execution date – Friday 1 December. But then he made a choice that may have saved his life.

Texas Death Row Inmate’s Execution Postponed Over False Testimony


November 29,2017Juan Castillo - TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Juan Castillo was scheduled to die on December 14, 2017. He was supposed to be the last prisoner on death row to be executed in Texas this year.

But on November 29, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals delayed Castillo’s execution and sent his case back to trial court to reexamine false testimony used to convict him. 

Castillo, 36, was sentenced to death for the 2003 murder and robbery of Tommy Garcia Jr. in San Antonio. Castillo, his then-girlfriend, and two others had tried to lure Garcia with sex, and then steal his money. When 19-year-old Garcia ran away, Castillo shot him.

During his trial, Castillo’s former bunkmate at the Bexar County Jail, Gerardo Gutierrez, testified that Castillo had confessed to the crime. But in 2013, Gutierrez signed an affidavit saying he had lied about the confession.

Gutierrez’s false testimony is prompting the Texas CCA to pause the execution and further review Castillo’s case.

It’s not the first time Castillo’s execution date has been called off.

Previously, his Sept. 7, 2017 execution date was postponed at the request of the Bexar County District Attorney’s office because some of Castillo’s lawyers living in Harris County were impacted by Hurricane Harvey, according to the Texas Tribune. Castillo also had a prior execution date set back in May, but the date was postponed after Bexar County prosecutors failed to give sufficient notice to the defense, according to the Houston Chronicle

Texas has executed seven death row inmates in 2017, two of which were in Bexar County.

At least two other executions have been delayed in Texas this year because of issues over testimonies. Back in October, Anthony Shore, known as the “Tourniquet Killer,” had his execution date moved to January after he told prosecutors he had falsely planned to take responsibility for a fellow inmate’s murder.

Duane Buck, a Harris County death row inmate, had his sentence reduced to life in prison after the Supreme Court granted him the right to a retrial because a prison psychiatrist had told the jury in his 1997 trial that Buck would be more dangerous in the future because of his race.

Nevada Condemned Inmate Complains of Death Penalty Delay


November  21,2017

 

Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier appears in a Las Vegas court via video on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, days before his scheduled execution. From the state prison in Ely, where he is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, Dozier, 46, told Clark County District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti one last time that he wants his death sentence carried out. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) The Associated Press

 The Nevada death row inmate whose execution was postponed last week is complaining to a judge that he’s suffering what he calls an open-ended and unnecessary delay.

State prisons spokeswoman Brooke Keast said Tuesday that Scott Raymond Dozier (DOH’-sher) was returned to suicide watch on Nov. 14, the day he had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at Ely State Prison.

Dozier turned 47 on Monday.

He has volunteered die, and would become the first person executed in Nevada since 2006.

Court documents show that he sent a Nov. 13 letter asking Clark County District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti to lift a stay of execution that she issued over concerns about the three-drug cocktail that prison officials want to use.

The matter is now destined for review by the Nevada Supreme Court.

 

Death row inmate in ‘Angola 5’ case wants Louisiana Supreme Court justice recused over death penalty comments


November  21,2017

Update, 2 p.m. Tuesday

Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton recused himself on Tuesday from the pending appeal of death row inmate David Brown in the “Angola 5” prison-guard murder case. Read the latest here. 

Original story

Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton has proven a popular guest on local talk radio in his native Shreveport, frequenting the airwaves with his views on hot-button legal issues since long before he reached the state’s highest bench three years ago.

But his on-air defense last month of capital punishment has spurred attorneys for death-row inmate David Brown to call for Crichton to be sidelined for Brown’s pending appeal in the “Angola 5” prison-guard murder case.

Crichton, a former Caddo Parish prosecutor and district judge, mentioned the Angola 5 case on the KEEL morning show on Oct. 23 to illustrate his view that the death penalty can be a valuable deterrent. He agreed with a show host that “if you’re in for life, you have nothing to lose” without it.

Brown was serving a life sentence for a different murder when Capt. David Knapps was killed inside a bathroom at the state penitentiary.

In a 24-page motion filed late Monday, his attorneys argue that Crichton’s mention of the Angola 5 case alone warrants his recusal. Crichton went further, however, and Brown’s attorneys argue that his other on-air remarks reveal at least the appearance of bias in Brown’s case, and perhaps in any capital case that reaches the court.

n the Oct. 23 show, Crichton first acknowledged that he “can talk about anything other than a pending case before the Louisiana Supreme Court,” then mentioned the Angola 5 case. He went on to lament the lengthy appeals process in death-penalty cases and argued for well-publicized executions.

“If it’s carried out and the public knows about it, I believe it’s truly a deterrent,” he said. “What really boggles my mind is the inmate who has committed capital murder who is on death row who is begging for his life. Think about the fact that the victim gets no due process.”

Crichton suggested a workaround to problems many states have had in acquiring one of three drugs in a commonly used “cocktail” for state killings — a shortage he blamed on drug companies being “harassed and stalked” by death-penalty opponents.

Crichton said he favors giving condemned inmates a choice in their death: the cocktail; a new method using a single drug, nitrogen hypoxia; or another, time-tested execution method.

“Firing squad is one,” he said.

Brown had joined other prisoners in an escape attempt but claimed he wasn’t there when Knapps was killed inside an employee restroom in the prison’s Camp D building on Dec. 28, 1999. Brown helped drag Knapps there and got the victim’s blood on his prison garb, but said he’d left before other inmates killed Knapp.

The state never accused him of striking Knapps but argued he had joined in a plot with a specific intent to kill. A West Feliciana Parish jury convicted Brown and sentenced him to death in 2011. Jeffrey Clark, the other Angola 5 member sentenced to death, lost his appeal before the Louisiana Supreme Court last year.

Crichton was among the majority in a Supreme Court decision last year that reinstated the death penalty for Brown. The court upheld an appeals court’s reversal of a decision by retired Judge Jerome Winsberg to scrap Brown’s death sentence but not his conviction.

Winsberg cited a statement from another inmate that Brown’s trial attorneys never received. Inmate Richard Domingue claimed that Barry Edge, who also was accused in the murder, had confessed that he and Clark alone decided to kill the guard.

The withheld statement left a “reasonable probability that the jury’s verdict would have been different had the evidence not been suppressed,” Winsberg ruled. But the Supreme Court found that Domingue’s statement “provides no additional evidence as to who actually killed Capt. Knapps” and “simply does not exculpate Brown.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to hear Brown’s case. His direct state appeal, a different legal phase, landed with the Louisiana Supreme Court in May. One of Brown’s lawyers, Billy Sothern, wrote that he plans to raise several issues in an appeal brief due next month that Crichton alluded to on the radio. Among them: Whether a death sentence is disproportionate to Brown’s role in the killing, and the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Brown’s attorneys solicited an affidavit from a Northwestern University law professor, agreeing that Crichton should recuse himself. Professor Steven Lubet, who co-authored a 2013 text called Judicial Conduct and Ethics, said Crichton’s “impartiality might reasonably be questioned” over his mention of the Angola 5 case, and when he said about the death penalty, “If we’re gonna have it, use it.”

The other six justices would rule on the request if Crichton decides not to recuse himself. Crichton could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

No Second Chances: What to Do After a Botched Execution


November  18, 2017

The pathos and problems of America’s death penalty were vividly on display yesterday when Ohio tried and failed to execute Alva Campbell. Immediately after its failure Gov. John Kasich set June 5, 2019, as a new execution date.

This plan for a second execution reveals a glaring inadequacy in the legal standards governing botched executions in the United States.

Campbell was tried and sentenced to die for murdering 18-year-old Charles Dials during a carjacking in 1997. After Campbell exhausted his legal appeals, he was denied clemency by the state parole board and the governor.

By the time the state got around to executing Campbell, he was far from the dangerous criminal of 20 years ago. As is the case with many of America’s death-row inmates, the passage of time had inflicted its own punishments.

The inmate Ohio strapped onto the gurney was a 69-year-old man afflicted with serious ailments, including lung cancer, COPD and respiratory failure. Campbell has had prostate cancer and a hip replacement. He needs daily oxygen treatments, uses a walker and is tethered to a colostomy bag.

Ohio officials were so aware of Campbell’s breathing problems that they provided a wedge-shaped pillow to raise his head, so he could breathe more easily as it set about to end his life.

Officials had been warned about the difficulty of finding a usable vein, and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction had problems finding Campbell’s veins during a recent exam.

Nonetheless, the state went ahead with his execution.

On Wednesday, the execution team tried four different places in Campbell’s arms and right leg to insert the needle through which to administer lethal drugs. After 30 minutesit stopped the execution and returned Campbell to death row.

Stopping an execution before it is completed is quite unusual, even if serious problems occur during the procedure. Those serious problems are not rare: Approximately 3 percent of American executions were botched during the 20th century, and 7 percent of lethal injections have been botched since its first use in 1982.

But Campbell’s was one of the very few executions to be halted since the mid-1940s.

The first of those was Louisiana’s botched electrocution of Willie Francis, in which the current of electricity was not sufficient to kill him.

The second time an execution was stopped in mid-course occurred in Ohio during the 2009 effort to put Romell Broom to death. The execution team could not find a usable vein. After two hours of repeatedly poking and stabbing Broom’s arms and legs, they gave up.

In April 2014, when Oklahoma tried to execute Clayton Lockett, officials also had problems finding a usable vein. They finally inserted the needle into a vein in his groin. When the lethal drugs were administered, Lockett struggled violently: The needle had dislodged from the vein into a muscle. Ultimately the execution was stopped before Lockett was killed. Sometime later he died of a heart attack while still strapped to the gurney.

Lockett’s death was one of the more gruesome in America’s history of botched executions, but it spared the state an ethical and legal question that faced officials in the Francis and Broom cases, and now faces Ohio officials who failed to execute Campbell. What should be done with him?

Should the state, having failed in its first execution attempt, be able to try again? Are we well served when we force the condemned to undergo the psychological torture of having to prepare to die, only to have to relive the experience of execution a second time?

The courts bent over backward to permit a second execution in the Francis and Broom cases. In the former, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the state would only be barred from going through with a second execution if it had intentionally botched the first. Even if the state were careless or negligent in its first execution attempt, the court said, it could still proceed with another. The state of Louisiana went ahead and put Francis to death.

In March 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Broom to stop his second execution. The court reaffirmed the Francis precedent and added that since the lethal chemicals had not begun to flow when his execution was halted, his “punishment” had not really begun. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal that a second execution would constitute double jeopardy and cruel and unusual punishment. Broom awaits his execution date on Ohio’s death row.

The fine legalisms of the Francis and Broom decisions give the state too much room for error in the serious business of putting someone to death. If the state is going to kill, it should have the burden of getting it right the first time. The law should allow no second chances.

I say this not out of sympathy for those whose heinous acts bring them to the death chamber, but because how a society punishes reveals its true character. Punishment tells us who we are.

When we punish cruelly we create “a class of punishers whose lives are wasted and their characters depraved so that as citizens they become almost as undesirable as the criminals they torture.”

Those are the words of a playwright, George Bernard Shaw, and, as Ohio considers what to do with Campbell, it should heed his warning. Ohio failed to execute Alva Campbell, despite all the warning signs of the risk of failure because of his weakened physical state. Now, Ohio’s citizens and public officials should be careful, lest in their eagerness to try a second time, they “become almost as undesirable” as the murderer they seek to execute.

Ohio Halts Execution of Physically Debilitated Prisoner After It Cannot Find Vein for Intravenous Line


November  15

Having failed to find a suitable vein in which to set an intravenous execution line, Ohio called off the scheduled November 15 execution of gravely ill and physically debilitated death-row prisoner, Alva Campbell . After execution personnel failed in four attempts to find a vein for the IV line, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr stopped the execution and Governor John Kasich granted Campbell a temporary reprieve. Kasich rescheduled Campbell’s execution for June 5, 2019. The execution was delayed for nearly an hour as executioners assessed Campbell’s veins, and then witnesses watched for another half hour as prison personnel used an ultraviolet light to probe Campbell’s arm for a vein, sticking him twice in the right arm, once in the left arm, and once in the left leg. Columbus Dispatch reporter Marty Schladen, a media witness to the execution, reported that, when he was stuck in the leg, “Campbell threw his head back and appeared to cry out in pain.” Campbell’s lead lawyer, assistant federal public defender David Stebbins said, “We had warned them for months that they were going to have this problem.” In court documents seeking to stay his execution, Campbell’s lawyers unsuccessfully argued that a combination of severe medical ailments and physical disabilities made it inappropriate for him to be executed. These afflictions include lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory failure, prostate cancer, and severe pneumonia, and Campbell relies on a colostomy bag that hangs outside his body, needs oxygen treatments four times a day, and requires a walker for even limited mobility. Following the reprieve, Stebbins questioned whether the state would be able to successfully execute Campbell. “He’s 69 years old and has all kinds of illnesses and his veins are a mess,” he said. “They’re just not going to get any better.” “This type of state-sponsored torture is not acceptable,” said ACLU of Ohio senior policy director Mike Brickner. “This marks the fifth botched execution for Ohio in recent years, and the second time the state could not complete an execution. This is not justice,” he said, “and this is not humane.” In the past eleven years, Ohio has also botched the executions of Joseph L. ClarkChristopher Newton, Romell Broom, and Dennis McGuire. In a video posted on the website of the Columbus Dispatch, reporter Marty Schladen, who was scheduled to witness the execution, said “I don’t think anything that happened today would make anybody sanguine about the death penalty in Ohio right now.”