Houston serial killer Anthony Shore faces another death date, this one Jan. 18. Shore was originally set for execution in October, but that got halted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office amid rumors he was planning to confess to another murder: the 1998 killing of Melissa Trotter. Except Larry Swearingen had been convicted of kidnapping, raping, and strangling Trotter in 2000, and by then was preparing for his own execution in November.
Assistant District Attorney Tom Berg said his office revoked Shore’s execution warrant at the request of Montgomery County D.A. Brett Ligon, who believed Shore was colluding with Swearingen. (He says a folder was found in Shore’s cell with information relating to Trotter’s death.) Berg said the Texas Rangers have since interviewed Shore, who admitted he had “nothing to do” with Trotter’s murder. Shore alleged he and Swearingen once contemplated conspiring, but had since “parted ways.” Berg, who says his office and Ligon’s have reviewed the interview, said Shore decided not to “take the fall” for his fellow inmate. Shore has exhausted his appeals; Berg said he’s unaware of any new attempts to stay Shore’s execution, and concluded that his case will see its “inevitable end” next Thursday.
Shore’s execution is just the beginning of a busy month.
Swearingen, however, had his November execution stayed due to a filing error, and has since been granted additional DNA testing. Unlike Shore, who confessed to killing four girls between 1986 and 1995, Swearingen has maintained his innocence. His supporters, including his lawyer James Rytting, say he was in a county jail for outstanding traffic warrants at the time of Trotter’s murder. The 19-year-old was last seen on Dec. 8, 1998, with Swearingen (who wasn’t arrested until three days later), but her body wasn’t discovered until Jan. 2. Rytting said forensic evidence suggests her body could not have been dumped in the woods until “a week or 10 days” after Swearingen was arrested.
Included in the evidence sent out for testing is Trotter’s rape kit, which was never tested and could exonerate Swearingen should analysts uncover another DNA profile. Samples of hair particles found on Trotter’s undergarments and the alleged murder weapon (a torn pair of pantyhose) will also be tested. The evidence was shipped out in December and testing will likely take four weeks.
Rytting was alarmed that the state had reissued an execution date for Shore. “They shouldn’t be putting the guy into the ground with these questions still around,” he said. He says two witnesses, with no connection to Swearingen, told the D.A.’s Office that Shore suggested to them that he was connected to Trotter’s murder. The information, Rytting said, would “sure as hell” make Shore a suspect had it been provided prior to Swearingen’s conviction. “It’s a type of incriminating statement the prosecution seizes on all the time,” he said. “You don’t get to wiggle out of it with an ‘Aw shucks, I was kidding.'”
Shore will likely mark the first state-sanctioned killing of 2018, and his is just the beginning. William Rayford is scheduled for Jan. 30, and John Battaglia for Feb. 1.
In his final statement, Shore, 55, was apologetic and his voice cracked with emotion.
“No amount of words or apology could ever undo what I’ve done,” Shore said. “I wish I could undo the past, but it is what it is.”
He was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. CST.
Texas’ “Tourniquet Killer” is set for execution Thursday. It would be the first execution under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who oversaw the first year without an execution in the county for more than 30 years.
The first execution of 2018 in Texas and the nation is expected to take place Thursday evening for Houston’s “Tourniquet Killer.”
Anthony Shore, 55, is a confessed serial rapist and strangler whose murders went unsolved in the 1980s and 1990s for more than a decade. With no pending appeals, his execution is expected to be the first under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who took office last January and has said she doesn’t see the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.
Still, she has said the punishment is appropriate for Shore, deeming him “the worst of the worst.”
“Anytime a person is subject to government’s greatest sanction, it merits thoughtful review,” Ogg said through a spokesman Wednesday. “We have proceeded as the law directs and satisfied all doubts.”
Shore wasn’t arrested in the murders until 2003, when his DNA was matched to the 1992 murder of 21-year-old Maria Del Carmen Estrada, according to court documents. His DNA had been on file since 1998, when he pleaded no-contest to charges of sexually molesting his two daughters. After his arrest, he confessed to the murders of four young women and girls, including Estrada.
Between 1986 and 1995, Shore sexually assaulted and killed 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay, Estrada, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar and 16-year-old Dana Sanchez, the court documents said. He also admitted to the rape of another 14-year-old girl, but she managed to escape after he began choking her. The murder victims’ bodies were all found in various states of undress behind buildings or in a field with rope or cord tied around their necks like tourniquets.
Though he doesn’t argue that his client is innocent or undeserving of punishment, Shore’s lawyer, Knox Nunnally, said Wednesday that he was surprised Ogg continued to pursue the death penalty for Shore based on her previous statements on capital punishment. Ogg’s first year in office also coincided with the first year Harris County didn’t carry out an execution in more than 30 years.
“Many people in the death penalty community were expecting other things from her,” Nunnally said.
Though she has said the death penalty is “pure retribution,” Ogg told the Texas Observer last year that she still believes in it. But in two major death penalty cases that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ogg opted for reduced punishments.
After the high court ruled death row inmate Duane Buck should receive a new trial because an expert witness claimed he was more likely to be a future danger to society because he was black, Ogg offered a plea agreement in October to a sentence of life in prison rather than holding a new death penalty trial. The next month, Ogg asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reduce the death sentence of Bobby Moore, whose case had earlier prompted the Supreme Court to invalidate Texas’ outdated method of determining intellectual disability in death-sentenced inmates.
But for a “true serial killer” such as Shore, Ogg said in a July statement that he was “a person deserving of the ultimate punishment.”
Shore’s execution was originally set for October, but Ogg postponed it after Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon requested a delay from her and Gov. Greg Abbott. Ligon was concerned that Shore might falsely confess to the Montgomery County murder of Melissa Trotter, potentially disrupting the existing death sentence for the man already convicted in Trotter’s murder.
“We knew that was not true, but, that said, we knew that if we didn’t investigate it, it would look like we ignored potential evidence,” Ligon said.
Ligon said that after Shore talked to Texas Rangers and his office, investigators were convinced that Shore was not responsible for Trotter’s death or any other open murder cases. Nunnally said Shore never confessed to Trotter’s murder.
Now, Nunnally says he thinks he’s done everything he can for Shore. He had hoped to ask for a delay if the U.S. Supreme Court elected to hear a case out of Arizona that questions the constitutionality of the death penalty as a whole, but the justices have yet to make a decision and don’t meet again until Friday — the day after his scheduled execution.
Shore’s execution will the be the first in 2018, following a years-long trend of fewer executions in Texas and across the country. Four other executions are scheduled in Texas through March.
The execution of the first death-row Indian prisoner, convicted of killing a baby and her Indian grandmother, has been set for February 23.
In 2014, Raghunandan Yandamuri, 32, was given the death penalty for kidnapping and killing a 61-year-old Indian woman and her 10-month-old grand-daughter.
However, he is likely to get a reprieve because of a 2015 moratorium on the death penalty by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.
Authorities alleged that the killings were part of a botched ransom plot. Yandamuri had come to the U.S. on an H-1B visa.
The local Times Herald reported that even though his execution by lethal injection is set for February 23, he might get a reprieve because a death penalty moratorium previously was put in place by Governor Tom Wolf.
“The law provides that when the governor does not sign a warrant of execution within the specified time period, the secretary of corrections has 30 days within which to issue a notice of execution,” Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said in a news release.
According to the report, Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015. State officials are awaiting the results of a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, before moving forward with any executions.
Pennsylvania has not seen any executions in the last nearly 20 years. Since 1976, three persons have been executed in the States between 1995 and 1999.
It’s a question prisoners on death row hear before their execution begins. Along with last meals and long cell block walks, the opportunity to give a final statement has become deeply ingrained in the highly ritualized process of executing prisoners.
Most prisoners take the opportunity to pause on the lip of annihilation and utter a final statement, and the content of these messages range from expressions of guilt and sorrow to expletive-laced outbursts. Examining the final thoughts of people who have not only had time to think about their ultimate end, but who must also wrestle with overwhelming feelings of guilt and sorrow (though not in every case), provides a unique opportunity for sociologists and psychologists alike.
There is a growing body of scientific literature centered around the study and analysis of prisoners’ last words, although the subject is far from closed. At the moment, most studies work to identify recurring themes, though work in the future could go beyond this to search for correlations between last words and type of crime, prisoner demographics, personal history and mental health. At the moment, we can break down the final statements of death row inmates into a few broad categories: expressions of guilt and remorse, proclamations of innocence, spiritual statements and communications to their families. Journalist Dan Malone undertook such a content analysis in 2006, and found a few broad categories into which most final statements fall.
For many prisoners, the act seems to be an attempt to reach some sort of peace with their situation. Statements like “I’m ready” and those that express hope for some sort of afterlife are common. Some choose to address their victim’s families directly, and nearly every one that does so expresses remorse for their actions. Many acknowledge that they can never make up for what they did. Most inmates stop short of admitting guilt — instead of focusing on the past, they look to the future.
More rarely, the soon-to-be executed will directly own up to their crimes, most usually along with an expression of sorrow or an apology. In rare cases, the prisoner will choose to go down swinging, lashing out with angry and defiant words in their final minutes.
Still, these cases are rare, and it seems that the finality of death impresses a measure of humility and grace on most people. Most common overall are words of regret and personal statements, usually concerning their family, such as “I love you,” or references to being in a better place. It’s an oddly one-sided view of men who have been convicted of horrible crimes.
What Does It Mean?
Of course, it can be difficult to trust the words of someone who won’t be around to face the consequences of their actions any more. On the other hand, a dying man has very little left to lose, and few among us want to die with regrets. Further work is needed to truly parse out exactly why prisoners choose to say the things they do. As of right now, we have a few hints, though.
Many final statements seemed aimed at lessening psychological pain, something that a 2017 study identified as one of three main themes among prisoners’ last words. Identification with lost or forgotten ideals and rejection and aggression were the other dominant subjects that emerged in their analysis, which aligns roughly with what Malone found in his work.
This makes sense, since both studies used very similar datasets. Because of the nature of the death penalty in the United States, the statements come largely from Texas, which has been responsible for about a third of all executions since the death penalty was re-instated in 1976. While no recording devices are permitted in the execution chamber, a secretary is on hand to transcribe the prisoner’s final words, and, at least up till 2005, when Malone’s study ended, the Associated Press had a reporter on hand to chronicle the event as well.
This means that the final words of Texas death row inmates carry outsized influence in these kinds of studies. Most death row inmates are also men, another limitation. To truly understand the impact that final statements have, and what they say about our relationship with death, a more diverse sample size is necessary. These studies are a start, of course, but looking at how final statements differ across countries, by type of crime, and by demographic could prove illuminating. In addition, the prevalence of mental illness among death row inmates could impact the way they frame their crime, and their lives, just before execution.The last words we say before death are not usually uttered casually. This doesn’t mean they necessarily offer a glimpse of who we truly are, but instead a premonition of who we wish we were, or hope to be someday. It’s a rarified moment in a human being’s life; one that could help us all come to terms with our impending doom.
A Nov. 16 op-ed addressed an October panel discussion centered around the various issues with the death penalty (“Addressing false assumptions about the death penalty”). The author claims the panel “defended the indefensible” — rapists and murderers. The panel’s purpose was not to “defend” anybody, but to address a broken system and discuss better alternatives. What is indefensible is the perpetuation of a failed policy that doesn’t keep the public safer, risks executing innocent people and costs taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.
The author claims that the death penalty acts as a deterrent and saves lives — that more executions means a lower overall murder rate. The problem with that argument, though, is that it’s false on its face. He cites that in 1960 there were 56 executions and 9,140 murders. Four years later there were 15 executions and 9,250 murders. Therefore, because there were 41 fewer executions in 1964 versus 1960, and an increase of 110 murders, the death penalty must be an effective deterrent. What he fails to factor in is the population increase in the United States from 1960 to 1964. This means the homicide rate was lower in the year with fewer executions — 5.1 murders per 100,000 in 1960 and 4.9 in 1964.
When comparing death penalty states against non-death penalty states, the lack of deterrent effect is apparent. In the last decade, death penalty states have seen an average increase in their homicide rates of 2.25 percent, from 5.31 per 100,000 people in 2007 to 5.43 in 2016. Non-death penalty states have actually seen their homicide rates decrease by 7.9 percent, from 5.28 in 2007 to 4.86 in 2016.
Additionally, of the 10 states with the lowest murder rates in 2016, eight of them were states with no death penalty. Finally, since the argument is that more executions means an overall lower murder rate, when you take the top 10 states with the highest execution numbers since the death penalty was reinstated, they have an average homicide rate of 5.78 over the last decade, roughly 17 percent higher than the national average of 4.94 during the same time.
Dozens of studies far more exhaustive than an op-ed allows have shown there is no deterrent benefit to the death penalty. The most comprehensive analysis was conducted by the renowned National Research Council, which examined over three decades of studies and concluded there is no deterrent effect by having the death penalty. The conclusion of these scientists and academics is shared by experts on the front lines of keeping our communities safe. In two separate national surveys of police chiefs, the death penalty was ranked the least effective tool to prevent violent crime.
Beyond not being an effective deterrent to crime, the death penalty is flawed in other profound ways. Since 1976, at least 160 people have been released from death rows due to evidence of their innocence (an average of one person every three months) — some within hours of their scheduled executions. Additionally, the costs are outrageous. According to Utah’s Legislative Fiscal Analysis Office, the death penalty costs us $1.6 million morethan life without parole per inmate. Unavoidable mandates from the U.S. Supreme Court mean capital cases take decades from trial to conclusion (which in most cases is a legal reversal of some sort, not an execution). This lengthy process is also a nightmare for the victims’ families who are promised a punishment and then forced to wait through year after year, appeal after appeal, while the condemned becomes a celebrity.
Those of us who spoke on the panel last month did so with a desire to expose the ugly truth that our death penalty system isn’t serving our state. We are eager to cultivate a robust and honest dialogue about a punishment that has cost our state millions of dollars, provides false promises to victims, risks executing innocent people and — as experts continually attest — doesn’t make us any safer.
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 andfurther 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 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.
Stay granted by Ohio Supreme Court on October 16, 2014 “pending disposition of available state remedies …. It is further ordered that this stay shall remain in effect until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings, including any appeals.”
Reprieve granted by Gov. John Kasich because Ohio did not have execution drugs.^^
Stay granted by magistrate judge in U.S. District Court on December 19, 2016 to permit litigation of challenge to Ohio lethal injection protocol; on December 21, 2016, governor then rescheduledexecution for February 15, 2017.
Reprieve in place, Gov. John Kitzhaber imposed a moratorium on all executions in Oregon. Current Gov. Kate Brown has requested a report on the status of the death penalty and indicated the report will inform future policy decisions.
Execution date rescheduled to July 19, 2017.
Stay granted by U.S. District Court on January 31, 2017 to permit new counsel to file a petition seeking clemency for Ramirez. On February 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit deniedthe Texas Attorney General’s motion to vacate the District Court’s stay order.
Tilon Lashon Carter
Stay granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on February 3, 2017 on a 5-4 vote. The Court ruled that Texas had failed to timely serve the death warrant upon the Texas Office of Capital and Forensic Writs.
Stay granted by U.S. District Court magistrate judge on January 26, 2017 as part of preliminary injunction order declaring Ohio’s execution protocol unconstitutional. Then rescheduled for May 10, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
Stay granted by U.S. District Court magistrate judge on December 19, 2016 to permit litigation of challenge to Ohio lethal injection protocol; on December 21, 2016, Gov. John Kasich rescheduledexecution for April 12, 2017.
Stay granted by U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 25, 2017 to provide Smith to vindicate his right to pursue state and federal post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
Stay granted by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on February 17, 2017 to provide Poplawski the opportunity to pursue state post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
Stay granted by the York County Court of Common Pleas on February 9, 2017 to provide Woodard the opportunity to pursue state post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
Stay granted by U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on February 8, 2017 to provide Haney the opportunity to pursue state and federal post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
Stay granted by U.S. District Court magistrate judge on January 26, 2017 as part of preliminary injunction order declaring Ohio’s execution protocol unconstitutional. Then rescheduled for June 13, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
Stay granted by Ohio Supreme Court until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings.
Stay granted by U.S. District Court magistrate judge on January 26, 2017 as part of preliminary injunction order declaring Ohio’s execution protocol unconstitutional. Then rescheduled for July 26, 2017 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
Stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court on April 14 to permit counsel to litigate whether Ward is mentally competent to be executed. Temporary restraining order granted by Pulaski County court on April 14 in litigation brought by pharmaceutical company seeking to bar Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in scheduled execution. Restraining order lifted by Arkansas Supreme Court. Stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court on April 17 pending decision by the United States Supreme Court in McWilliams v. Dunn on questions concerning the right to an independent mental health expert that may affect the resolution of similar issues in Ward’s case.
Temporary restraining order granted by Pulaski County court on April 14 in litigation brought by pharmaceutical company seeking to bar Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in scheduled execution. Restraining order lifted by Arkansas Supreme Court. Stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court on April 17 pending decision by the United States Supreme Court in McWilliams v. Dunn on questions concerning the right to an independent mental health expert that may affect the resolution of similar issues in Davis’s case.
Temporary restraining order granted by Pulaski County court on April 14 in litigation brought by pharmaceutical company seeking to bar Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in scheduled execution. Restraining order lifted by Arkansas Supreme Court. Stay issued by Arkansas Supreme Court on April 19 to allow hearing on postconviction DNA testing.
Death sentence commuted by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on April 20 to life in prison, with no chance for parole.
Preliminary inunction granted by U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas staying McGehee’s execution until Arkansas Parole Board complies with 30-day period for public comment on its 6-1 recommendation for clemency and Gov. Asa Hutchinson decides whether to issue clemency.
Stay granted by Ohio Supreme Court until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings.
Stay granted by Texas Court of Criminal Appealson May 12 to permit the court to consider claim that new evidence shows that Carter’s conviction was a product of scientifically erroneous and false forensic testimony that the victim had been smothered.
Stay granted by U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on June 28, 2017 to provide Cash the opportunity to pursue state and federal post-conviction challenges to his conviction and sentence that are available to all criminal defendants.
Stay granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on August 21, 2017 to permit Long to re-litigate his claim of intellectual disability under Moore v. Texas. The Texas courts had previously denied his claim, applying the “Briseno factors” that were declared unconstitutional in Moore.
On August 30, 2017, the Bexar County District Court granted the Bexar County District Attorney’s motion to withdraw Juan Castillo’s execution date. The request was made after Governor Abbott declared a state of disaster for 30 Texas counties because of Hurricane Harvey. The court also issued an order setting a new execution date for December 14, 2017.
Jeffrey A. Wogenstahl
Stay granted by the Ohio Supreme Court on May 4, 2016 on motion to vacate execution date and to reopen direct appeal. Execution rescheduled for April 17, 2019 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
Stay granted by the U.S. Supreme Court on September 26, 2017 “pending the disposition of [Tharpe’s] petition for a writ of certiorari” seeking review of a decision by the 11th Circuit denying him an appeal of his habeas corpus claim that his death sentence was unconstitutionally tainted by the participation of a racially biased juror.
Injunction granted by U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on September 29 staying Borden’s execution through October 19, 2017, but vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court on October 4. Stay grantedby U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on October 5, 2017
Rescheduled for April 11, 2018 by Gov. John Kasich on February 10, 2017.*
Rescheduled for January 3, 2018 by Gov. John Kasich on May 1, 2017.**
Rescheduled for February 13, 2018 by Gov. John Kasich on September 1, 2017.^
90-day stay of execution granted by Harris County trial court to permit prosecutors to investigate claim that Shore was colluding with another death-row prisoner to confess to the murder in that case. Execution rescheduled for January 18, 2018.
Injunction granted by U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on October 16, 2017 astaying McNabb’s execution, and affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on October 18. Injunction vacated by U.S. Supreme Court on October 19, 2017 and stay lifted. EXECUTED.
Clifton Lee Young
Stay granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on October 18, 2017 and evidentiary hearing ordered on Young’s claim that newly discovered evidence (gunshot residue on the gloves of the prosecution’s key witness and affidavits of four prisoners that this witness had bragged about committing the killing and framing Young) shows that his conviction and sentence were obtained with false or perjured testimony.
Stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court on November 7, 2017 on petition raising issue related to Arkansas procedures for determining competency to be executed.
Stay granted by the Clark County District Court on November 9, 2017 to permit the prosecution to appeal its ruling barring the use of a paralytic drug in Nevada’s execution protocol.
Gov. John Kasich called off the execution on November 15, 2017 after personnel of the Ohio Department of Corrections failed five times to find a suitable vein to insert an intravenous execution line.
Robert Van Hook
Rescheduled for February 13, 2018 by Gov. John Kasich on May 1, 2017.**
Stay granted by trial court on October 27 because of clerk’s error in serving notice of execution.
The death penalty is often justified on the grounds that it brings peace to the families of victims; that the act of ending a life may mark an end to their pain. But for those who impose the death penalty, the truth about the emotional trauma of killing another human being belies this logic.
“You can’t tell me I can take the life of people and go home and be normal. If I had known what I’d have to go through as an executioner, I wouldn’t have done it. It took a lot out of me to do it.”
These are the words of Jerry Givens, former state executioner for the Virginia Department of Corrections. Givens executed 62 people over 17 years in a state that ranks third in the nation for number of executions. The emotional toll of his former job is something he can’t escape. “You have to transform yourself into that person that will take a life. Every time an execution was announced, it meant that I had to prepare myself mentally to kill.”
Confessions of an Executioner
It’s rare to find a former executioner willing to speak openly about their experiences. The nature of the job causes many to conceal their real occupation like a shameful secret. But Givens is one of the few executioners who speaks candidly about his past career, and he provides a unique insight into a world that few people ever venture into.
It’s clear from speaking to Givens that he is a compassionate man. He talks often of being able to look past the crime to see the human being underneath. “We degrade people and call them animals,” he told ThinkProgress. “But when I worked on death row, I didn’t see that animal. I saw a human being. When you call people an animal and treat them like that, that’s the behavior they’ll show you. But they can also show you that they’re not like that; that everybody can change.”
An executioner seems a curious job for a person to whom empathy comes easily. How did this compassionate man become an enforcer of the death penalty? What did it take for him to kill another human being? For Givens, it was a steadfast faith in the justice system. This faith meant that doubts were suppressed and fears were tolerated. Any gnawing unease was overpowered by the notion that it must be the right thing to do – it was state-certified, after all.
“I always ask myself, would I have agreed to participate in executions if I knew then what I do now?” Steve J. Martin, an execution witness for the Texas Department of Corrections, told ThinkProgress. “We do these things that we would normally never be involved in because they’re sanctioned by the government. And then we start walking through them in a mechanical fashion. We become detached. We lose our humanity.”
Givens agrees. “The people who pass these bills, they don’t have to do it. The people who do the executions, they’re the ones who suffer through it,” he said.
Deliberately killing another human being goes against all normal societal standards, and many individuals must go to unusual and harmful measures to accomplish such an act. A 2005 Stanford University psychology study by Michael Osofsky highlighted the tactics employed by prison staff to absolve themselves from feelings of guilt and despondency.
“Individuals must morally disengage in order to perform actions and behaviors that run opposite to individual values and personal moral standards,” Osofsky explained in the study. “Capital punishment is an example of this type of moral dilemma, where everyday people are forced to perform the legal and state-sanctioned action of ending the life of another human being, which poses an inherent moral conflict to human values.”
For many people involved in enforcing the death penalty, the subsequent trauma would never dissipate. California Governor Edmund Brown was responsible for deciding whether death sentences would ensue or be commuted to life without parole. Though he granted clemency to 23 out of his 59 cases, the weight of these decisions still overwhelms him.
“The longer I live, the larger loom those 59 decisions about justice and mercy that I had to make as governor,” Brown said. “It was an ultimate power over the lives of others that no person or government should have. And looking back over their names and files now, I realize that each decision took something out of me that nothing – not family or work or hope for the future – has ever been able to replace.”
Needless to say, the enforcers of the death penalty aren’t the only ones to suffer. Fully accepting the imminent end to your life, against your will and at the hands of another is a bizarre reality that many prisoners just couldn’t face, as Givens recounts.
“This one guy…was sort of moderately retarded. He’d ordered McDonald’s and a chocolate nut sundae for his last meal. But he couldn’t swallow it. So he said to me, ‘I can’t finish it so I’ll put it in the fridge for tomorrow.’ Here he is, three hours away for being executed and he’s thinking about putting his sundae away for tomorrow. But there was no tomorrow for him. He hadn’t realized this was his last day.”
Givens’ experiences in the death chamber have led him to campaign for the abolition of capital punishment, even driving him to write a book, Confessions of an Executioner. His motivation is deep-seated. “There are things I want the public to know that they don’t. I need to expose things that should be exposed. I don’t want to leave anyone in the dark, because America is still putting innocent people on death row. And people don’t know about it. People don’t understand.”
A Lethal Dose
The botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last year is one example of the realities of the death penalty, which Givens believes all people should know about. “He strained and struggled violently, his body twisting, his head reaching up from the gurney,” journalist Katie Fretland wrote. “Sixteen minutes after the execution began, Lockett said “Man,” and the blinds were lowered… It would be a full 43 minutes after the drug was administered before Lockett died – and only after he had thrashed on the gurney, writhing and groaning.”
Lockett was killed using a new combination of experimental drugs and the consequences were nightmarish. The doctor was sprayed with blood when an artery was hit; Lockett was in “some pain” as he was pricked at least 16 times in the attempts to find a vein; the scene was described by prison wardens as “a bloody mess” and the prisoner’s multiple attempts to talk like something from “a horror movie.”
The emotional repercussions of this blood-splattered scene were harrowing. Witnesses to the execution spoke of their distress and recounted not being able to sleep for days after. It is the quiet nature of lethal injections that is their selling point, after all –- state-sanctioned homicides veiled with a clinical serenity. As Givens knows all too well, no one wants to see actual blood spilled, or face the unwelcome reminder that, murderer or not, there is a human being dying in front of them.
After Europe blocked sales of the lethal drug sodium thiopental to the United States, the Department of Corrections were forced to look elsewhere for such a powerful anaesthetic. But global pharmaceutical companies didn’t like the idea of their drugs being used to kill people, and so drugs were sourced, purchased, but then again quickly blocked. Soon, the departments of corrections hit a wall. There were simply no anaesthetics strong enough.
But there were other drugs. Not anaesthetics, but sedatives like midazolam, usually administered in conjunction with an anaesthetic to relax a patient. Despite the warnings that midazolam is simply not powerful enough to produce the same coma-like state as sodium thiopental – a state absolutely necessary to ensure the subject feels no pain and the execution is ‘humane’ – midazolam became the drug of choice and the fatal experimentations began.
This unyielding desire to purchase and use barely-tested lethal drugs on prisoners doesn’t surprise Givens. “The criminal justice system is corrupted and we don’t want to own up to it. They think they can get any drugs they want. Where they got so much power from, I don’t know. The drugs should be disclosed to the lawyer and to the condemned – he should know what he’s going to die from.”
As many expected, the first midazolam executions were riddled with red flags. Pastor Laurence Hummer’s account of the execution of Dennis McGuire is just one of them: “His stomach swelled up in an unusual way. He struggled and gasped audibly for air. I was aghast. Over 11 minutes or more he was gasping for breath, his fists clenched the entire time. His gasps could be heard through the glass wall that separated us. There is no question in my mind that Dennis McGuire suffered greatly over many minutes. I consider that inhumane.”
Despite these reports, midazolam was recommended for use by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, and correctional facilities across the country jumped aboard. Last week, despite significant condemnation the
<href=”#ixzz3edvb5k66″>Supreme Court rejected the idea that midazolam is a cruel and unusual punishment and sanctioned its use, clearing the way for deferred executions to ensue.
“The drugs they’re using, who approved it? What doctor approved it?” asks Givens. “You can’t judge pain. You can’t measure the pain that a person is going through, physical or psychological. The guy receiving the drug can’t tell you, because he’s gone. You’ve never died before, so you can’t say. Even myself, I don’t know. I can’t tell you what a guy on the other end is feeling when I’m pushing drugs into his body.”
The Baseline of Morality
The botched executions didn’t end in Oklahoma. Sentenced to death in Arizona for a 1989 double murder, in July 2014 Joseph Wood took two hours to die. Journalist Mauricio Marin had never witnessed an execution before; prison staff had told him the process “lasts about 10 minutes” and would be “very clinical”. Instead:
“I saw a man who was supposed to be dead, coughing – or choking, possibly even gasping for air. What seemed like an eternity passed… Finally, the warden pronounced the killer dead, at 3:49 pm, one hour and 57 minutes after the execution began. I thought: Is this how long it’s supposed to take a man to die?”
Republican Senator John McCain was outspoken in terming Wood’s protracted execution as“torture”, but the governor of Arizona Jan Brewer disagreed. “Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer,” she said. “This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims.”
The argument that a convict’s crime was so heinous that it negates any qualms about their execution is popular with death penalty supporters. The incongruity of using the actions of a convicted killer to determine the baseline for what’s morally acceptable is not lost on Givens, who views this as a dire expression of our most base and ugly thirst for revenge.
“It is revenge – you can’t put it any other way,” he said. “We want revenge and we want it right away. Death is going to occur anyway, but we’re so impatient we have to execute someone. That’s the mentality people have. America was built on killing and there’s hatred in our hearts. But it shouldn’t be that way.”
While most supporters of the death penalty refute the idea that it’s about revenge, District Attorney Dale Cox -– responsible for one third of the death sentences in Louisiana since 2011 -– readily agrees. “I’m a believer that the death penalty serves society’s interest in revenge. I know it’s a hard word to say and people run from it, but I don’t run from it because I think there is a very strong societal interest,” Cox recently told a local reporter. “I think we need to kill more people.”
A death sentence is also no quick way to closure, as Bill and Denise Richard, parents of the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombings took pains to point out. Publishing a personal appeal in the Boston Globe titled ‘To end the anguish, drop the death penalty,’ the Richards implored prosecutors to sentence Dzhokhar Tsaernev to life without parole instead of death.
“The continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives,” they wrote. “We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.”
The Richards are not alone. Marietta Jaeger, whose seven-year-old daughter was kidnapped and murdered by a mentally ill man, requested that prosecutors seek a mandatory life sentence instead of the death penalty. Jaeger has been vocal in her opposition to capital punishment,asserting that in reality, the death penalty only creates more grieving families and turns the victims into that which they deplore – people who kill people:
“To say that the death of another person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones. That kind of justice would only dehumanize and degrade us because it legitimates an animal instinct for gut-level, blood-thirsty revenge. My daughter was such a gift that to kill someone in her name would have been to violate the goodness of her life; the idea is offensive and repulsive to me.”
Givens recalled the case of Earl Washington Jr., a 22-year-old black man wrongfully convicted of rape and murder, as one example that made him lose faith in the justice system. Washington’s execution was stayed nine days before Givens was scheduled to kill him. Years later, new DNA evidence led Virginia’s governor to pardon Washington, who was released in 2001.
“I knew the system was corrupted when we exonerated Earl Washington Jr. from death row. Days later, I would have executed him,” Givens said. “You have two types of people on death row: the guilty and the innocent. And when you have the guilty and the innocent, you shouldn’t have death row.”
But even if the law has not yet caught up, attitudes are starting to change on the death penalty. Support for the death penalty is at historic lows, and abolitionists remain optimistic even after the most recent Supreme Court ruling.
“We have to look at the big picture,” Givens explained. “Everyone on Earth has a death day: you, me, everyone. We can’t stop death, but we can stop killing…We have to think about the generation that’s coming up. We can’t let them go through what we had to go through. We tried it; we tried it, and it didn’t work. Now let’s get them going in a different direction from us.”