death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, CALIF., GA., OKLA., N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Feb 24 16:14:25 CST 2006
Hippocratic oath keeps doctors out of death chambers----Creed doesn't
allow participation in lethal injections
Physicians are bound by an oath to "first do no harm" - and that is the
central issue in the indefinite postponement of a California inmate's
execution after a federal judge ruled that an anesthetist must be present.
A federal judge in California this week ordered that an anesthesiologist
independently verify that death row inmate Michael Morales is in fact
unconscious before any lethal drugs are administered during his execution.
On Tuesday, corrections officials there were unable to comply with the
judge's order and were forced to postpone Morales' execution. The reason
was that 2 doctors contacted were not willing to violate the Hippocratic
Called in to certify
In Texas, which leads the nation by far in the number of executions
carried out, a physician is called in to certify the death of an inmate
after an execution. Many other states follow the same practice, which
abides by American Medical Association standards, but witnessing or
verifying that an inmate is sufficiently sedated before the lethal doses
are delivered violates the oath.
In court filings, Morales contended that the drug protocol leaves open the
possibility that he would experience excessive pain during his execution.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel opined that Morales' claim "raises at
least some doubt as to whether the protocol actually is functioning as
In Texas, a similar challenge was raised recently about the same
three-drug cocktail used here and in California. But the case failed on
procedural grounds, said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Texas
Attorney General's Office. The effectiveness of Texas' 3-drug cocktail,
the focus of the California case, was not addressed.
Strickland said he knew of no current case raised on behalf of any of the
more than 400 inmates on Texas' death row.
During executions in Texas, California and dozens of other states, these
drugs are administered: sodium thiopental, a barbiturate that puts the
inmate to sleep; pancuronium bromide, a drug that paralyzes the muscles;
and potassium chloride, which activates the nerve fibers lining the
inmate's veins and causes cardiac arrest.
In Texas, a volunteer physician, who is not in the chamber during the
execution, makes contact with the inmate only afterward, when called in to
confirm the inmate has died. A trained technician applies the two needles,
typically into the arms or hands. When called upon, the doctor enters the
chamber, checks for a heart rate and then announces the time of death,
usually about 10 minutes after the drugs are delivered.
"Our methods have been evaluated and seem to be the best protocol to
follow to carry out a lethal injection," said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman
for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "This has been the protocol
used since 1982."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Lethal Injection Executions Face Scrutiny
Death row inmates in more than a dozen states are fighting lethal
injection, and with surprising success. What once appeared to be a
long-shot legal argument now seems to be gaining ground.
Judges from California to Louisiana, and even at the nation's highest
court, are entangled in disputes between state prison officials and
inmates who claim their executions may be painful.
The eventual outcome of the cases could be sweeping because every state
that has capital punishment, except for Nebraska, has lethal injection.
Nebraska uses only the electric chair. "Every lawyer worth his salt is
putting in a lethal injection challenge," said Richard Dieter, executive
director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital
An emerging issue is the role of medical professionals in ending the lives
of prisoners, providing an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at
The Supreme Court refused this month to let Missouri put to death an
inmate despite the state's assurances that it uses a board-certified
surgeon to mix the drugs and insert intravenous lines into the prisoner's
groin. The inmate claims that the doctor, whose name is kept secret, would
violate medical ethics.
Earlier this week, California postponed an execution because no doctor or
nurse would agree to administer a fatal dose of barbiturate. A judge is
reviewing the state's system.
Based on the experience of other states, California, which has 650
condemned inmates, could be in for a long delay in executions.
In Louisiana, no inmates have been executed since 2002 as the state
contests a lawsuit over the training of its executioners and the mix of
drugs used. New Jersey, where a moratorium is now in place, was ordered by
a state court 2 years ago to reconsider its procedure.
Although lethal injection does not appear to be in jeopardy, states could
face new requirements for drugs and training. Legal battles are ongoing in
California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New
Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia,
according to anti-death penalty groups.
A mandate that licensed medical personnel help with executions could pose
practical problems for states, however, because the American Medical
Association and other medical groups have long opposed that.
"The people most qualified for doing executions are prohibited from doing
it," said Dr. Jonathan Groner, who teaches at Ohio State University
College of Medicine and Public Health.
The administration of a fatal dose of drugs was considered more humane
than other methods used over the years: electrocution, firing squad, gas
chamber and hanging.
For now, the Supreme Court is dealing with only a technical part of the
fight, whether inmates can bring last-minute civil rights challenges to
lethal injection. The court has a chance to broaden its review to address
a contention that the drug cocktail used in most states causes pain that
amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
A Florida case that could be acted on as early as Monday raises that
issue, and a 2nd one, from Tennessee, comes up for a vote this spring.
The Supreme Court has never before told states how they can impose capital
Death penalty supporters do not believe the Constitution guarantees
convicted killers the right to a pain-free execution and think the Supreme
Court, with 2 new members named by President Bush, will condone lethal
"There is practically no chance that lethal injection as such would be
thrown out," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice
Legal Foundation, who wants the court to intervene. "I would like to see
the uncertainty done with."
Besides Texas, there appears to be no rush to execute inmates with the
legal landscape so unsettled. Only one other state, North Carolina, has an
execution scheduled next month.
In the North Carolina execution, lines would be inserted in each of
Patrick Moody's arms by technicians and the drugs administered by people
hidden by curtains.
One of his lawyers, Charlotte Blake, said she is more optimistic now that
judges are paying attention to health issues that have long been a part of
death row appeals.
"There's a renewed vigor," she said.
North Carolina has already changed drug dosages in response to a lawsuit
that Moody may join.
"It's been coming for years," said Gary Clements with the Capital
Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana. He first began pursuing appeals to
lethal injection 15 years ago and has slowly seen more death row attorneys
join in. "Science and math are scary to a lot of lawyers," Clements said.
Capital Punishment: Don't Improve It, Get Rid of It
It is so typically American for us to try to improve the productivity of a
process, even when the process is killing in the name of the people. Yet
in boosting the productivity of any process the FIRST question to answer -
before improvements to effectiveness, efficiency, timeliness, or any other
criteria even become relevant - is, "Why is this process worth doing at
all?" If there's a good answer, then improve the process. Otherwise, get
rid of it.
Capital punishment may have had a place in American society at one time.
But that time is past. We will get the process right at last only when we
eliminate it completely.
(source: Richard Wise, Op-ed news)
Death Penalty Foes Fte Partial Victory
They had prayed and protested, gone to jail and gone to the media. On
Tuesday, death-penalty foes celebrated a partial victory: the life of
Michael Morales, the man who had stabbed, raped and bludgeoned to death
17-year-old Terri Winchell in 1981, would be spared - for a few months at
"This gives hope to our whole country, because this is torture, this is
absolute torture and thats why we have to get rid of the death penalty,"
said Cynthia Johnson of Kensington, who had come to San Quentin Tuesday
evening with other members of the Berkeley Unitarian Universalist
Fellowship to protest what was to have been Morales execution.
"This is fantastic that one man's life has been saved and that were one
step further to eliminating the death penalty," said Jes Richardson, with
the St. Geronimo-based Ghandi Peace Brigade. Morales' execution was first
delayed Tuesday morning just after midnight when 2 anesthesiologists, who
had agreed to monitor the execution by injection of a three-drug sequence,
learned that they would have to intervene if Morales regained
The execution was canceled around 5:45 p.m. Tuesday. Earlier that day,
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel had ordered that Morales would be
executed with a single drug, a massive dose of sodium pentothal. Tuesday
afternoon, however, the judge added that the drug must be administered
directly into Morales vein by a medical professional and not administered
by others through an intravenous tube. No medical professional could be
found who was willing to carry out the procedure.
Fogel scheduled a hearing for May 2 and 3 on constitutional questions
regarding the lethal injection procedure. Until that time, there will be
no executions in California.
"This makes our argument very strong that lethal injection is cruel and
unusual punishment," said Crystal Bybee of the Campaign to End the Death
Penalty. "Its great news for Michael Morales to get a stay of execution,
but it also means something for people on death row."
Dr. Sureya Sayadi, who had joined the 40 or so other death penalty foes at
San Quentin Tuesday evening and had protested at noon the day before with
the group from the Berkeley Fellowship, was particularly outraged at the
idea that doctors were being asked to help put people to death.
Doctors learn to "do no harm, they learn how to help patents," she said.
"Even in times of war, if you see a patient from the other side, you take
him as your patient."
On Monday, a dozen protesters from the Berkeley Fellowship blocked the
east gate at the prison; 3 among them, Hal Carlstad and Cynthia Johnson of
Kensington and Berkeley Peace and Justice Commissioner Phoebe Anne Sorgen,
Sorgen spoke to the Daily Planet by phone Monday soon after her release.
"I cant stand it that our state is an executioner, setting an example for
our children and the world," she said. "The U.S. did not choose to join
the world in opposition to the death penalty."
The European Union has abolished the death penalty and all countries that
wish to join the union must abolish it as well. Canada has outlawed the
death penalty; Mexico did so last year.
Sorgen said that at noon on Monday, about a dozen people blocked San
Quentins east gate, in a symbolic gesture preventing entry of the medical
personnel, who were to participate in the execution. When asked to stop
blocking the gates, Carlstad, Johnson and Sorgen refused, were arrested
and taken to the Marin County Jail, where they were cited for trespassing
on state property and obstructing a public thoroughfare. They were
released after being cited.
Others would learn of their action through the media, Sorgen said. "People
wont feel such despair. It will give people cause to think and might push
people to do something (against the death penalty)."
Also on Monday, at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in El Cerrito,
some 50 people of various faiths gathered to pray, light candles and speak
about how to end state-sanctioned murder. Many then went to join the vigil
of about 250 people at San Quentin.
While TV stories show the pain and hurt of the families of the victims
-Terri Winchell's family spoke out, saying Morales' death would bring
closure to the family - 2 people spoke at St. Johns about their personal
loss to violence. Murray Richardsons son was beaten to death when he was
10 years old.
"Years later, I was able to forgive the killer of my son," he said. "My
firm belief is that killing is wrong."
Deacon Thom McGowan remembers when he got the news that his grandson was
shot to death on the streets of Richmond. Vengeance and more violence is
not the answer, he told the gathering.
"The cycle of violence in which someone decides to take revenge is
contagious. That's something we seem not to have grasped clearly. We need
to follow Gods rules."
Father John Maxwell is pastor at St. Johns, where vigils are held before
each execution. "Even with bad people like Michael, life is sacred," he
said. "We can be protected by throwing away the key (to the jail.)" St.
Johns parishioner James Vaughn asked the congregation to sign a petition
calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. The idea is to take a time
out from executions "until we can figure it out," he said.
A bill, AB 1121, proposed by Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood,
died in the Assembly last year. On Tuesday, however, State Assembly
members Sally Lieber, D-San Jose, and Koretz introduced Assembly Bill 2266
that would allow voters to decide whether to establish a temporary
moratorium on executions in California.
The moratorium would take effect in January 2007. The legislation must 1st
be passed by the State Legislature then signed by the governor before
going on the ballot."
(source: Berkeley Daily Planet)
Former first lady joins call for death penalty freeze
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter on Friday joined the call for a
moratorium that would put the use of the death penalty in Georgia on hold.
In a written statement, Carter cited an American Bar Association report
recommending a freeze on the state's use of the death penalty until flaws
in its use are addressed.
The report said Georgia is the only state that fails to provide legal
counsel to poor people once they are sentenced to death and the only state
that requires defendants to prove mental retardation beyond reasonable
doubt - the law's highest standard.
"There are serious questions about the fairness of its application in our
state," Carter said. "If we are not going to abolish the death penalty, a
moratorium would give time to thoroughly examine its imposition in the
different counties in our state and develop uniform legal procedures that
would more accurately ensure that innocent people are not killed."
Beginning with her stint as First Lady of Georgia in the early 1970s,
Carter has been an outspoken advocate for mental health care. She also is
a longtime death penalty opponent.
Carter said she "wholeheartedly" endorses the ABA's Georgia Death Penalty
Assessment Team Report, calling it "a welcome contribution to public
thinking on an important topic that affects all Georgians."
On Thursday, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, introduced bills calling
for a moratorium and setting up a commission to study Georgia's use of the
Republican leaders who control both chambers of the Legislature and Gov.
Sonny Perdue, also a Republican, have continued to endorse the state's use
of the death penalty, saying appropriate checks and balances are already
Georgia, which uses lethal injection, has executed 39 people since 1976
and now has a death row population of 109, according the Washington
D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.
ON THE NET----The Carter Center, http://www.cartercenter.org
(source: Associated Press)
Following the refusal of several doctors to participate in an execution in
California, State Rep. Paul Roan authored a bill preventing any medical
licensing board from retaliating against state doctors and nurses who
participate in executions in Oklahoma.
House Bill 2660, which passed today in the House Judiciary Committee,
would prevent any "licensing entity, board, commission, association, or
agency" from taking any action to "revoke, suspend, or deny" a license to
any medical professional because that person participated in an execution.
"Whether you believe in the death penalty or not or think it is cruel and
unusual punishment, it is the law in Oklahoma," said Roan, D-Tishomingo.
"Doctors and nurses should feel they have the protection of the law on
their side if they participate in a state-ordered execution."
The bill was requested by the State Department of Corrections following a
fiasco in California this week in which several anesthetists refused to
comply with a federal court order to ensure that a man scheduled to die by
lethal injection was properly anesthetized before the lethal doses of
medicine were administered.
The execution was postponed indefinitely after the anesthetists objected
they might have to advise the executioner if the prisoner woke up or
appeared to suffer pain, an action the doctors believe to be medically
The American Medical Association, the American Society of
Anesthesiologists and the California Medical Association all opposed the
anesthetists' participation in the execution as unethical and
The DOC wants to ensure that if similar actions take place here, medical
professionals will feel they can participate in an execution without fear
of retaliation by a medical board or organization.
HB 2660 now moves to the House floor for consideration by the full body.
Former Death Row Inmate to Lecture March 1
Kirk Bloodsworth, the 1st death-row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence,
will discuss his experience in a talk Wednesday, March 1, on campus. Free
and open to the public, the talk will begin at 7 p.m. in Gannett
Auditorium of Palamountain Hall.
In June 1993, Bloodsworth's case became the first capital conviction in
the U.S. to be overturned as the result of DNA testing. A former Marine
and Maryland resident, Bloodsworth was convicted of sexual assault, rape,
and 1st-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to death in 1985.
By the time of his release, Bloodsworth had served almost 9 years -
including two on death row - for a crime he did not commit. In his lecture
he will recount his experience of wrongful conviction, exoneration, and
his successful lobbying effort that led to the passage of the federal
Innocence Protection Act and the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction Testing
The lecture is sponsored by Skidmore's Law and Society Program.
(source: Office of News Relations, Skidmore College)
More information about the DeathPenalty