Ohio

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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Ohio Supreme Court to hear local man’s death penalty appeal


December  4,  2017

 

 

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court is to preside over a legal debate over whether the death penalty should be executed on a young Clayton man – the second youngest on Ohio’s Death Row – for the murder of an even younger Warren County man at his home outside Waynesville in January 2014, according to the Journal-News.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell will personally argue for the state to continue forward toward the execution of Austin Myers, now 22, of Clayton, although another Clayton man, Timothy Mosley – like Myers 19 years old at the time – actually stabbed to death Justin Back, 18, a 2013 Waynesville High School graduate about to enter the U.S. Navy.

“Austin Myers killed Justin. Tim was his weapon of choice,” Fornshell said last week, quoting Back’s stepfather, Mark Cates, a local prison guard.

It will be Fornshell’s first appearance before the high court on behalf of Warren County.

Lawyers appointed to appeal Myers’ death sentence have identified 18 violations of law they claim should convince the state’s high court to set aside his death sentence, including his age and the lesser sentence – life in prison without paroleMosley received in exchange for his testimony.

Three years later, Myers is still the second youngest of 140 Ohio prisoners facing the death penalty. Damantae Graham, 20, convicted of killing a Kent State University student, is the only one younger.

Myers’ lawyers also claim errors or misconduct by the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case, decided more than three years ago in Warren County Common Pleas Court, should convince the high court, including appointed Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice of Ohio’s 11th District Court of Appeals, to spare his life.

“Mr. Myers’s rights under the Constitution of the United States and the Ohio Constitution were violated and he was denied a fair trial and sentencing proceeding. Accordingly, this Court should reverse and discharge the defendant or grant a new trial. In the alternative, this Court should vacate the death sentence, remand for a resentencing hearing, and order the life sentence imposed,” lawyer Timothy McKenna said in his brief to the high court.

The appeal, pending since Oct. 27, 2014, was set for oral arguments on Oct. 20, after a second Ohio Death Row inmate was executed. These came after the postponement of scheduled executions starting in January 2014 following problems during the execution of Dennis McGuire, a Preble County man.

Rice was appointed to the high court on Nov. 6, replacing Justice Bill O’Neill, who recused himself after announcing he was running for governor.

The case

Myers and Mosley were arrested in July 2014 after Back’s mutilated body was found in Preble County, in a wooded area outside Versailles known as Crybaby Bridge. They both gave statements during interrogation at the Clayton Police Department used by investigators in reconstructing the crime, according to police and court records.

According to their statements, Mosely’s testimony and other evidence, after a day of preparation and planning, Myers and Mosley went to Back’s home in a small neighborhood along the Little Miami River, east of Waynesvile. With a garrote – fashioned by a friend who was not charged – Mosley came up behind Back and began choking him, while Myers restrained Back. When the garrote caught on Back’s chin, Mosley pulled out a knife and stabbed Back to death.

After cleaning the home and stealing Back’s iPod and wallet, as well as a gun and safe belonging to Cates, Mosley and Myers removed Back’s body, dumping it in Preble County after dousing it with chemicals to quicken decomposition. Before leaving the body, Myers shot it twice with Cates’ gun.

At trial, prosecutors convinced the jury that Myers was the mastermind of the crime and he was sentenced to die. Mosley, in exchange for his testimony, was sentenced in a plea bargain to life without parole.

The issues

Mosley was represented by Dennis Lieberman, a lawyer hired by Mosley’s family. Myers was represented by Greg Howard and John Kaspar, appointed by the court.

But Fornshell said Mosley got the deal because – unlike Myers- he offered to cooperate. Prosecutors needed one or the other to “put in the back story,” Fornshell said.

In addition, Fornshell said Mosley accepted responsibility and Myers was “exponentially more dangerous,” pointing to evidence indicating Myers handled the bulk of the planning and wanted to go back and kill Cates.

He’s a serial killer who got caught the first time,” Fornshell added.“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind.”

McKenna and co-counsel Roger Kirk did not respond to requests for interviews.

But their 110-page brief indicates they will emphasize Myers “was a 19 year-old immature adolescent with behavioral issues” who should be spared the death penalty, in part because Mosley’s sentence spared his life, although he wielded the murder weapon.

In addition, they claim prosecutors rendered Myers’ lawyers “admittedly ineffective” by withholding evidence until “on the Friday eve before the Monday trial,”as well as the fact that Mosley was to be a witness.

The appeal

The appeal is to be the first of a series of cases heard on Tuesday and Wednesday.

All arguments are streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live and archived on the Ohio Channel, according a release from the high court.

The court typically issues opinions within six months, but it was unclear when a decision would be issued in this case.

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.”

Ohio Mom Indicted for Murder of Sons Could Face Death Penalty


August 27, 2015

An Ohio woman accused of killing her 3 sons over a 13-month period out of jealousy at the attention her husband paid them has been indicted on aggravated murder charges and could face the death penalty.

Aggravated murder charges against Brittany Pilkington in Bellefontaine were announced Tuesday by the Logan County prosecutor.

Investigators say the 23-year-old smothered 2 sons, 1 in July 2014 and the other on April 6. Authorities took custody of her 3rd son after he was born 3 months ago, but a judge allowed him to return home because there wasn’t conclusive evidence the older boys had been killed. The 3rd son died Aug. 18.

Pilkington’s mother said Pilkington told her in a jailhouse phone call that she’s innocent.

Pilkington is jailed on $1 million bond.

(source: Associated Press)

Ohio Planned to Import Death Penalty Drug Illegally


August 19, 2015

A letter from the FDA warned the state that importing the drug would break the law.

The state of Ohio planned to illegally import sodium thiopental, a drug used for executions, according to a Food and Drug Administration letter obtained byBuzzFeed through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The June letter says that Ohio planned to “obtain bulk and finished dosage forms of sodium thiopental.” Since the drug is not available in the US, wrote Domenic Veneziano, director of the FDA’s import operation, “we assume this product would be purchased from an oversees source.”

Veneziano reminded Ohio Director of Rehabilitation and Correction Gary C. Mohr that“there is no FDA approved application for sodium thiopental, and it is illegal to import an unapproved new drug into the United States.”

According to BuzzFeed:

The prison Ohio carries out executions in registered for a DEA license to import the drug last year for a “law enforcement purpose,” but until now it was unknown if the state actually intended to use the license.

Ohio, like many other death penalty states, shrouds its execution drug suppliers in secrecy. States argue the secrecy protects their suppliers from intimidation and embarrassment, while death row inmates and open government advocates argue it removes an important check on state power.

When Nebraska received a similar letter from the FDA last year, it came out that the state paid an Indian dealer named Chris Harris more than $50,000 for enough sodium thiopental to execute hundreds of prisoners. (Nebraska has since abolished the death penalty completely.)

BuzzFeed followed up with Ohio corrections department to find out if Harris was the planned supplier for Ohio as well.

When approached by BuzzFeed News about Harris in June, Ohio DRC spokesperson JoEllen Smith said the department’s legal division would have to handle the matter. After spending weeks on the request, she only would say that Ohio had not communicated with Harris’s company, Harris Pharma, but did not specifically answer the question of if the state had purchased from him directly or indirectly. Smith did not respond to follow up questions.

Ohio’s last execution took place in January 2014, when the state gave inmateDennis McGuire 10 milligrams of midazolam, a controversial sedative whose use for lethal injections the Supreme Court recently upheld. Ohio plans a new series of executions beginning in 2016.

Many reputable drug manufacturers don’t want to be associated with the death penalty, much less the botched executions that have prevailed of late. The FDA-approved manufacturer of sodium thiopental stopped making the drug in 2011 so that it couldn’t be used for this purpose. When Missouri announced plans to use propofol, the drug found in Michael Jackson’s body at the time of his death, for executions, its German manufacturer expressed displeasure and threatened to get the European Union to stop exporting it the US completely. Many states are now struggling to find the drugs they need for executions.

This fact is compounded in Ohio, whose governor, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, signed a “secret executions” bill this winter that exempts anyone participating in a lethal injection from public records requests. Under the law, medical and nonmedical staff, companies transporting or preparing supplies or equipment used in executions, and providers of the drugs used in lethal injections are all protected from public records requests and do not need to reveal their identity or duties.

Ohio still adding to Death Row population


april 2, 2014

In the past decade, Ohio’s Death Row has shrunk by one-third, from 209 to 139.

But a new state report shows that the courts continue to sentence people to death at the same time the process of lethal injection is mired in legal controversy.

The 2013 Capital Crimes Report issued yesterday by Attorney General Mike DeWine says 12 executions are scheduled in the next two years, with four more awaiting the setting of death dates. Among those scheduled are three from Franklin County: Warren Henness (Jan. 7), Alva Campbell (July 7, 2015), and Kareem Jackson (Jan. 21, 2016).

Ohio has carried out 54 executions since 1999, including three last year, the same as in 2012.

The annual status report on capital punishment in Ohio, which covers calendar year 2013, does not mention the problems during the Jan. 16, 2014, execution of Dennis McGuire when he gasped, choked and struggled for more than 10 minutes before succumbing to a two-drug combination never before used in a U.S. execution.

A lawsuit has been filed by McGuire’s two children, and the drug issue prompted Gov. John Kasich to push back the scheduled March 19 execution of Gregory Lott until November.

The next scheduled execution is Arthur Tyler of Cuyahoga County on May 28.

DeWine’s report says 316 people have been sentenced to death in Ohio since 1981, when capital punishment was restored after being overturned as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The report cites 18 gubernatorial commutations of death sentences: four by Kasich, five by Gov. Ted Strickland, one by Gov. Bob Taft and eight by Gov. Richard F. Celeste.

In all, 26 convicted killers have died in prison, including Billy Slagle of Cleveland, who committed suicide on Death Row on Aug. 4, 2013.

DeWine reported that 74 capital-punishment sentences were removed by the courts, and six, including Donna Roberts, the only woman currently sentenced to death in Ohio, are facing resentencing.

There have been 34 whites and 19 blacks executed, all males. They spent an average of 16.6 years in prison before being executed.

Of their 85 victims, 65 were adults and 19 were children. White victims outnumbered blacks 2-1.

For the first time this year, a group opposed to the death penalty issued its own report in response to the official state document. Ohioans to Stop Executions concludes, “While Ohio’s overall use of the death penalty is slowing, it has become clearer than ever before that the race of the victim and location of the crime are the most-accurate predictors of death sentences in the Buckeye State.”

The group said 40 percent of death sentences originate in Cuyahoga County. Ohio prosecutors filed 21 capital-murder indictments last year, a 28 percent drop from 2012, as sentences of life without the possibility of parole became more prevalent.

The full state report can be found online at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Files/Publications/Publications-for-Law-Enforcement/Capital-Crimes-Annual-Reports/2013-Capital-Crimes-Annual-Report.

OHIO – Kasich postpones March 19 execution – GREGORY LOTT


february 7, 2014

Gov. John Kasich has postponed the scheduled March 19 execution of Gregory Lott because of lingering concerns about the drugs used in the lethal injection of Dennis McGuire last month.

Kasich this afternoon used his executive clemency power to move Lott’s execution to Nov. 19.

While the governor did not cite a reason, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said he wanted to give the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction time to complete its internal review of McGuire’s Jan. 16 execution. “Gregory Lott committed a heinous crime for which he will be executed,” Nichols said.

During his Jan. 16 execution, McGuire, 53, gasped, choked and clenched his fists, all the while appearing to be unconscious, for at least 10 minutes after the lethal drugs – 10 mg of midazolam, a sedative, and 40 mg of hydromorphone, a morphine derivative – flowed into his body. The drugs had never been used together for an execution.

Attorneys for Lott, 51, are challenging his execution, complaining the drugs could cause “unnecessary pain and suffering” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 19 in the U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost’s court.

Lott, 51, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing John McGrath, 82, by setting him on fire in his Cleveland-area home in 1986. McGrath survived in a hospital for 11 days before dying. Lott came close to execution in 2004, but the U.S. Supreme Court blocked it.

Kevin Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, praised Kasich for showing “leadership and careful consideration” by issuing a temporary reprieve.

USA: The death penalty has become a game of chess


Americans have developed a nearly insatiable appetite for morbid details about crime, as any number of docudramas, Netflix series and Hollywood movies attest.

There is 1 notable exception: executions. Here, we’d just rather not know too much about current practices. Better to just think of prisoners quietly going to sleep, permanently.

The blind eye we turn to techniques of execution is giving cover to disturbing changes with lethal injection. The drugs that have traditionally been used to create the deadly “cocktail” administered to the condemned are becoming harder to get. Major manufacturers are declining to supply them for executions, and that has led states to seek other options.

That raises questions about how effective the lethal drugs will be. At least 1 execution appears to have been botched. In January, an inmate in Ohio was seen gasping for more than 10 minutes during his execution. He took 25 minutes to die. The state had infused him with a new cocktail of drugs not previously used in executions.

States have been forced to turn to relatively lightly regulated “compounding pharmacies,” companies that manufacture drugs usually for specific patient uses. And they’d rather you not ask for details. Death row inmates and their attorneys, on the other hand, are keenly interested in how an approaching execution is going to be carried out. Will it be humane and painless or cruel and unusual?

Lawyers for Herbert Smulls, a convicted murderer in Missouri, challenged the compound drug he was due to be given, but the Supreme Court overturned his stay of execution. A district court had ruled that Missouri had made it “impossible” for Smulls “to discover the information necessary to meet his burden.” In other words, he was condemned to die and there was nothing that attorneys could do because of the secrecy.

Smulls was executed Wednesday.

Missouri, which has put 3 men to death in 3 months, continues shrouding significant details about where the drugs are manufactured and tested. In December, a judge at the 8th U.S. Circuit of Appeals wrote a scathing ruling terming Missouri’s actions as “using shadow pharmacies hidden behind the hangman’s hood.”

States have long taken measures to protect the identities of guards and medical personnel directly involved with carrying out death penalty convictions. That is a sensible protection. But Missouri claims the pharmacy and the testing lab providing the drugs are also part of the unnamed “execution team.”

That’s a stretch. And the reasoning is less about protecting the firm and more about protecting the state’s death penalty from scrutiny.

The states really are in a bind. European manufacturers no longer want to be involved in the U.S. market for killing people. So they have cut off exports of their products to U.S. prisons.

First, sodium thiopental, a key to a long-used lethal injection cocktail became unavailable. Next, the anesthetic propofol was no longer available. At one point, Missouri was in a rush to use up its supply before the supply reached its expiration date.

Next, the state decided to switch to pentobarbital. So, along with many of the more than 30 states that have the death penalty, Missouri is jumping to find new drugs, chasing down new ways to manufacture them.

Information emerged that at least some of Missouri’s lethal drug supply was tested by an Oklahoma analytical lab that had approved medicine from a Massachusetts pharmacy responsible for a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

For those who glibly see no problem here, remember that the U.S. Constitution protects its citizens from “cruel and unusual punishment.” But attorneys for death row inmates are finding they can’t legally test whether a new compounded drug meets that standard because key information is being withheld. Besides, we citizens have a right to know how the death penalty is carried out.

All of this adds to the growing case against the death penalty, showing it as a costly and irrational part of the criminal justice system. We know the threat of it is not a deterrent. We know it is far more costly to litigate than seeking sentences for life with no parole. We know extensive appeals are excruciating for the families of murder victims. And we know that some of society’s most unrepentant, violent killers somehow escape it.

And now we’ve got states going to extremes to find the drugs – and hide information about how they got then – just to continue the killing.

ABOUT THE WRITER Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star

(source: Fresno Bee) 

 

Ohio: Corrections officers placed on leave after Death Row inmate’s suicide


Two corrections officers on Death Row who were on duty when convicted killer Billy Slagle committed suicide early Sunday morning have been placed on administrative leave.

JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said today that officers Clay Putnam, 19, and John McCollister, 30, were placed on administrative leave yesterday with pay, standard policy in suspension cases. No other information was released about the department’s investigation.

McCollister has been with the agency since 2010 and Putnam became a corrections officer in January this year.

Slagle, 44, was found hanging in his cell on Death Row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution about 5 a.m. Sunday and died an hour later. Officers at the prison are supposed to make rounds of all cells every 30 minutes. His suicide came just hours before he was scheduled to go on around-the-clock watch beginning 72 hours prior to his execution.

He was scheduled to be lethally injected for the 1987 murder of 40-year-old Mari Anne Pope, his neighbor in Cleveland. (The Columbus Dispatch Thursday August 8, 2013)

Ohio killer Billy Slagle commits suicide in cell days before he was set to be executed


A KILLER facing execution on Wednesday has been found dead in his cell Sunday on Ohio’s death row in an apparent suicide.

Prison spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said Billy Slagle, 44, was found dead in his cell about 5am local time Sunday at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution south of Columbus, Ohio. He was declared dead within the hour.

No other details were immediately provided.

Slagle was sentenced to die for fatally stabling neighbour Mari Anne Pope in 1987 during a Cleveland burglary while two young children were present.

In a rare move, the prosecutor in Cleveland asked the Ohio Parole Board to spare Slagle. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said jurors today, with the option of life without parole, would be unlikely to sentence Slagle to death.

The parole board and Governor John Kasich both rejected mercy for Slagle.

Last week, Slagle’s attorney argued that a jury never got the chance to hear the full details of his troubled childhood.

The attorneys, arguing for a new trial and to delay his execution, said that information met requirements for asking for a new trial, which normally must happen within four months of a conviction.

Slagle was “unavoidably prevented” from filing his request because his original attorneys didn’t develop and present the evidence, the filing said.

Mr McGinty and Slagle’s attorneys had cited his age – at 18, he was barely old enough for execution in Ohio – and his history of alcohol and drug addiction. (Associated Press)