[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Nov 2 02:30:38 CDT 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE----CONTACT: US Senator Russ Feingold
Feingold Statement on the Severe Injustices of Capital Punishment
Today, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold made the following statement on the
severe injustices in capital punishment systems nationwide following the
Supreme Court's decision to block an execution in Mississippi, widely seen
as an effective halt to executions until the court rules on a case
involving the death penalty next year.
"With the Supreme Court issuing yet another stay in a death penalty case
this week, it appears likely that states will suspend executions at least
temporarily. This de facto moratorium on executions by lethal injection
gives us a chance to recognize just how deeply flawed the implementation
of capital punishment in this country is. Indeed, the Supreme Court's stay
comes just one day after a call by the American Bar Association for a
nationwide moratorium on capital punishment based on its detailed study of
state death penalty systems, which found racial disparities, convictions
based on bad evidence, grossly inadequate indigent defense systems, and a
host of other problems with the implementation of capital punishment in
this country. We should take advantage of this apparent pause in
executions to consider the severe injustices within the system as a
Senator Feingold, a longtime opponent of capital punishment, is the author
of S.447 - the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act.
(source: Common Dreams)
The Death Penalty: What is an Acceptable Error Percentage?
Though the Georgia Supreme court has agreed to finally hear his appeal,
Troy Davis sits on death row for the murder of Officer Mark McPhail in
Savannah GA, despite the fact that most of the witnesses have since
recanted, many alleging they were pressured or coerced by police.
There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used in the
crime was never found. The case against Davis consisted entirely of
witness testimony, which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the
As Davis fights for his life, the American Bar Association recently
released a report that evaluated the fairness and accuracy of capital
punishment of 8 states, including Georgia. The report is based on a simple
premise that if ours is a society that is going to have a death penalty
there can be no margin for error.
The ABA findings found serious problems in every state they evaluated,
fueling calls for a moratorium on the death penalty.
According to the report, states generally are failing to require the
preservation of physical and/or biological evidence through the entire
legal process. DNA testing statutes often are drafted too narrowly, with
strict filing deadlines and onerous procedural hurdles.
States are not requiring that crime laboratories and medical examiner
offices be accredited. Most states have had at least one serious incident
of crime lab mistakes or fraud.
Every state evaluated continues to struggle with racial disparities in its
capital system. And none seem to have addressed the impact that mental
illness as well as mental retardation can have on capital cases.
Moreover, with some states utilizing judicial elections, there can be an
erosion of judicial independence as judges are increasingly selected based
on their political positions, especially on capital punishment, than
justice and fairness.
These findings and others within the report strongly indicate the only
consistency is the inconsistencies in the manner in which capital
punishment is administered. As a result, if you are poor, a racial
minority, or suffering from mental health or mental retardation, you have
a much better chance of receiving the death penalty.
The ABA report is hardly groundbreaking. It does, however, bring light to
the inequity of the policy.
Suppose all the flaws cited in the ABA report were addressed, is it
possible to have a perfect capital punishment policy? On matters of life
and death, at what point do the errors become unacceptable?
Why is it that a country that consistently demonstrates distrust for
government with benign matters can allow for such bureaucratic malfeasance
on the critical issue of life?
Are the poor, racial minorities, or those suffering from mental health or
mental retardation expendable political pawns? The obvious answer is yes.
Ambitious politicians, running on tough on crime policies, can take the
most egregious scenarios and make them emblematic of the whole. The system
is flawed; Illinois proved that in 2000 when it exonerated 13 men on death
row who had been wrongly convicted.
I have no idea if Troy Davis is innocent. I do know that his life cannot
be in jeopardy based on a system that has nothing more than inconsistent
witness testimony on which to convict him.
Given that it is a system that cannot be 100 % accurate, what then is an
acceptable percentage of accuracy? Anything above zero is a form of social
triage. Our collective primordial thirst for revenge blinds us to the
insanity of the policy.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, America has executed
roughly 1,100 individuals comprised mostly of those mentioned in the ABA
study. One can only wonder if some were wrongly convicted.
While I applaud the work of the ABA to bring these issues of injustice to
light, calling for a moratorium on the death penalty is just the
beginning. The goal must be for America to join the ranks of countries
like Honduras, Haiti, and Senegal by abolishing the death penalty, thereby
leaving the fraternity headed by North Korea, China, and Rwanda.
(source : Huffington Post -- Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and
Is There a Humane Way to Put Someone to Death?
There was a time when public debate about the death penalty in the United
States focused on concerns about racial discrimination, lack of competent
counsel for indigent defendants, and executing the innocent. But with the
Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments early next year on whether lethal
injection is cruel and unusual punishment, the death penalty debate has
shifted to how we put the condemned to death.
Those who support the death penalty argue that lethal injection is the
best way to "administer death." Even if the condemned person experiences a
few minutes of excruciating pain, it is humane enough for a convicted
murderer. Some of those opposed to the death penalty worry that if lethal
injection is replaced by a truly pain-free method, the public's appetite
for executions will grow. Both sides agree that a debate about lethal
injection will get us nowhere, but in fact, having the debate is useful,
because the story of lethal injection mirrors that of the death penalty
Botched lethal injections are--like wrongful convictions and incompetent
defense attorneys-- are the product of an astonishing history of
negligence, incompetence, and irresponsibility by state officials
responsible for implementing a punishment that the public supports, but
doesn't want to know too much about.
Lethal injections look peaceful and painless--which is why all but one of
the 38 death penalty states have adopted them to replace the more gruesome
spectacles of execution by hanging, firing squad, poison gas, or
electrocution. But looks can be deceiving. With lethal injection, the
condemned prisoner is strapped to a gurney and injected with a massive
dose of the anesthetic sodium pentothal, which should render him
unconscious and stop his breathing. Next he is injected with pancuronium
bromide, a drug that paralyzes the muscles, including the lungs and
diaphragm. Finally, he is injected with potassium chloride, which should
bring swift cardiac arrest.
All of the states that use lethal injection copied this bizarre and
dangerous drug protocol from Texas, the national leader in executions,
which itself had simply taken the idea from an Oklahoma medical examiner
with no pharmacology experience who concocted the protocol in 1977.
When the drugs in the 3-drug lethal injection protocol are administered
properly, the prisoner should be motionless-- as well as unable to feel
pain--within a minute or two. But execution logs from California and North
Carolina reveal body movements inconsistent with the proper administration
of the lethal injection drugs, particularly the anesthetic. If the
prisoners were not sufficiently anesthetized, they may have felt
themselves suffocating from the pancuronium bromide, or they may have felt
excruciating pain as the potassium chloride coursed its way through their
veins to their heart.
Indeed, potassium chloride is so painful that US veterinary guidelines
prohibit its use on domestic animals unless a veterinarian first ensures
that they are deeply unconscious. But most states do not require anyone to
stay at the condemned prisoner's side to make sure he is in fact deeply
anesthetized and unconscious before the 2nd and 3rd drugs are
It should not be surprising that since 1982, states have recorded at least
40 visibly botched executions, in which prisoners showed physical distress
during the process --not to mention executions where the prisoner may have
felt pain but was unable to express it because of the paralytic drug.
Court records in the handful of states where lethal injection is being
challenged reveal a sorry litany of incompetence and bungling.
And when things have gone wrong during an execution, states have done
little to fix the problem. States react to questions raised about lethal
injection the same way they react to claims of other death penalty
injustices--with barely disguised indifference. When courts or governors
have ordered states to review their execution protocols because of
evidence that they may put prisoners at risk of unnecessary pain, state
officials chose not to undertake a careful inquiry, but rather made
superficial changes that fail to address the inherent flaws of the 3-drug
protocol. States have been advised of--and routinely rejected--a one-drug
protocol, the administration of a massive dose of a long-acting
barbiturate. The reason? Although the inmate would not experience any
physical pain, it would take him as long as 40 minutes to die, which would
be difficult for the execution team and witnesses to watch.
If the United States is going to retain the death penalty, it must ensure
that executions are conducted in as pain-free a manner as possible. But
there is no neat, easy, antiseptic way to kill a human being. The lethal
injection debate brings this reality into sharp relief, and forces the
public to acknowledge that when it comes to the death penalty, nothing
about the process, from conviction to killing, has ever been just.
That's why the more we talk about what executions actually look and feel
like, the more public support for the death penalty falls away as we
grapple with the graphic details of the killing process. No matter how
pain-free we make an execution, it will always be taking a human life. And
it will always be inhumane.
(source : Huffington Post -- Sarah Tofte is a researcher for the US
program at Human Rights Watch and co-authored a 2006 report entitled "So
Long as They Die: Lethal Injections in the United States." )
Portrait of lethal injection reveals a barbaric scene
WHEN our pollies were engaged recently in their point-scoring contest
about the ethics of capital punishment, I chanced upon a chilling witness
account of an execution American style.
Over there, they favour the lethal injections these days, it being
considered an efficient, more humane way of despatching an offender.
As the appointed hour nears, in the execution chamber, deaths grim medical
equipment is ready.
A door opens and the condemned man, manacled, with head bowed, shuffles
awkwardly towards a waiting trolley, above which are three suspended
bottles containing the lethal cocktail he is shortly to receive.
He reaches the trolley and pauses, to look into the eyes of the doctor who
is about to kill him.
A warder hands him a microphone, he whispers a few farewells to his
family, then submits to being strapped down on to the trolley.
Meanwhile, on the other side of a plate-glass window, is the "viewing
gallery," where hand-picked ghouls have gathered to witness the macabre
They quickly settle down, engaging in small talk as they help themselves
to the coffee and doughnuts provided by the prison authorities.
The doctor efficiently probes his "patient's" arm and soon locates a vein
suitable for the cannula.
He injects firstly a drug to supposedly calm the victim, follows this with
a 2nd drug that paralyses the muscles and lungs to stop the breathing,
then delivers the coup de grace in the form of a massive dose of poison.
Within a few minutes, the heart monitor flat lines, then a further period
elapses before the doctor pronounces the inert figure "brain dead," and
the state has exacted its revenge.
But now a ludicrous thought troubles me.
Here we have one highly trained doctor deftly killing a healthy
24-year-old man whilst, elsewhere in the city, an equally competent medico
fights to save the life of an 80-year-old stroke victim. How can anyone
countenance such a preposterous absurdity?
Uncle Sam's love affair with capital punishment is as legendary as it is
irrational. The politicians know, if they care to look, that the death
penalty is no deterrent to homicide.
They can easily discover for themselves that those who are executed are
overwhelmingly drawn from society's underclass the poor and uneducated.
However, if you are an affluent enough killer to afford a crack team of
defence lawyers, if you're white and middle class, you're statistically
unlikely to end up on death row.
Worrying, too, is the fact that innocent people can still find themselves
facing the executioner truly a horrifying thought. Thankfully, since the
advent of DNA, some convictions have been overturned and disbelieving
death row inmates reprieved, although probably scarred for life by their
harrowing experience of the flawed system of justice.
Civilised nations have long rejected capital punishment as a relic of the
America, however, ignoring the ample evidence, persists with this
barbarous practice and, in so doing, aligns herself with regimes such as
China, Burma, North Korea and most of the Muslim nations.
Some folk still want to retain capital punishment, but reserved only for
those whose deed is particularly nasty. But who decides who gets the noose
and who doesn't? Who sets the criteria? One murder, or multiple? Murder
involving torture? Who decides how much torture warrants death? Child
murder? Who determines the exact age legally defining the age of a child?
When will "extenuating circumstances" be admissible (mental incompetence,
Either you reject capital punishment outright, without exception or you
opt to retain the death penalty with all its proven flaws. What is the
only civilised, ethical decision?
If you can advance one sound argument to support the retention of the
death penalty, my riposte will be "show me your evidence please."
(source: The Border Mail; David Milan is a member of the Humanist Society
The death penalty in the United States
A legal challenge to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court to the method of
lethal injection has led to a "creeping moratorium" on the death penalty
The appeal by two Kentucky death row inmates holds that the 3-chemical
cocktail used in lethal injections inflicts unnecessary pain and
Following are some facts and figures about the death penalty in the United
States since 1977, when executions resumed following the lifting of a ban
on the practice by the U.S. Supreme Court the previous year.
- There have been 1,099 executions in the United States since 1977. The
peak year was 1999, when 98 were carried out while no inmates were put to
death in 1978 and 1980.
- If the "creeping moratorium" holds until the end of the year, 42 people
will be executed in the United States in 2007, the lowest number since
1994 when 31 were put to death.
- 2005, the last year for which data is available, saw 128 death sentences
imposed, the lowest number over the past 3 decades. The peak year was 1996
when 317 were handed down.
- The death penalty is sanctioned by 37 of the 50 states and the U.S.
government and the military. Lethal injection is the main method used by
all of the death penalty states except for Nebraska which uses the
- The standard method involves administering three separate chemicals:
sodium pentothal, an anesthetic to make the inmate unconscious;
pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes all muscles except the heart; and
then potassium chloride, which stops the heart, causing death.
- Texas has been by far the most active death penalty state in the
post-1976 era with 405 executions. Virginia is a distant 2nd at 98.
(sources: Death Penalty Information Center, Texas Department of Criminal
Executions likely on hold until high-court ruling
The Supreme Court's orders in recent death penalty cases have been brief,
cryptic and even contradictory. But after Tuesday night's action stopping
a Mississippi prisoner's execution, their consequences seem clear.
Imposition of the death penalty is unlikely to resume until next year,
after the justices hear the Kentucky case of Baze v. Rees and rule on the
constitutionality of the lethal injections. Most of the 38 states that
permit capital punishment use that method.
"The court is sending signals that make it extraordinarily unlikely that
there will be any executions before Baze comes out," said Deborah Denno, a
Fordham University law professor.
"I think this is unprecedented," added Denno, an expert on lethal
injection issues, referring to the court's decision to review a method of
execution for the 1st time in more than a century and the far-reaching
consequences of its orders prior to hearing the case.
"It sure looks like that until they decide this issue, they don't want to
see any more executions," said Georgetown University criminal law
professor Randy Barnett.
On Tuesday, about 15 minutes before convicted murderer Earl Berry was
scheduled to be put to death, the court issued a temporary reprieve.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito dissented.
The court earlier this fall blocked two other executions, including one in
Texas, but it allowed the scheduled lethal injection of another Texas
prisoner to go forward on the night of Sept. 25, just hours after the
justices said they would take up the lethal injection case.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, whose state was stopped from
executing Berry, said Wednesday, "The court has sent conflicting signals
to us AGs. But now it seems they don't want any more executions to go
The justices will not be considering the constitutionality of capital
punishment or whether lethal injections should be ended entirely. Rather,
the Kentucky case tests the judicial standard for deciding whether the
commonly used method carries a risk of suffering.
Before the court agreed to hear the dispute, about a dozen states,
including California, already had imposed moratoriums on executions
because of challenges to the method, which prisoners say causes
unnecessary pain. Since the court accepted the case, more than a dozen
executions have been postponed, mostly by state courts.
In Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state, judges blocked
three scheduled executions last month, two in cases in which prisoners are
challenging the lethal injection procedure. There are no more Texas
executions scheduled this year. 3 executions are scheduled for 2008, but
whether they will be carried out is in doubt.
Jerry Strickland, spokesman for the Texas attorney general, said Wednesday
that Texas will continue on a case-by-case basis.
In Oklahoma, Attorney General Drew Edmonson on Oct. 3 asked state judges
not to schedule any executions until the high court rules.
Overall, the nation is likely to see the lowest number of annual
executions since 1994 this year, said Richard Dieter, director of the
Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks executions and opposes
So far, there have been 42 executions in 2007. Dieter said that the pace
before the Supreme Court agreed to take up the lethal injection dispute
was comparable to 2006, when 53 executions were carried out.
"No governor or state court has acted in a way that means there definitely
will be no more executions nationwide," Dieter said. "But there is a de
facto moratorium." Generally, judges handle such disputes on an individual
The Supreme Court usually does not explain its orders related to requests
for stays of execution. Its action allowing the execution of Texas inmate
Michael Richard caused confusion, but the decision may have been based on
procedural grounds rather than on the merits. Dieter and Denno said
Richard's lawyers faced a difficult deadline for filing the proper
(source: USA Today)
Plight of deathpenalty coming under scrutiny
It doesn't take a large crowd to assemble proponents and opponents over
our nation's use of the death penalty.
Just about everyone has an opinion.
So, when the death penalty comes under scrutiny, there is bound to be
plenty of interest. That is where we stand right now because there is a
lot of heated activity in the air concerning the death penalty.
On September 25, the Supreme Court agreed to decide a challenge to the
3-chemical cocktail used under the lethal injection procedures in
Kentucky, procedures similar to those used in other states including
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the Kentucky case in
January, with a decision likely before the end of June. At issue is
whether the lethal injection method constitutes "cruel and unusual
punishment, inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering."
Lethal injection in Texas uses a solution consisting of sodium thiopental
(a lethal dose to sedate the person), pancuronium bromide (a muscle
relaxant which collapses the diaphragm and lungs), and potassium chloride
(which stops the heartbeat).
In advance of that Supreme Court test, the American Bar Association is
renewing its call for a nationwide moratorium on executions, based on a
3-year study of death penalty systems in 8 states that found unfairness
and other flaws.
The 8 states in the study were Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia,
Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The study did not include
Texas, which is by far the most active capital punishment state. Since
1976, Texas conducted 405 executions, distantly followed by Virginia with
98, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The American Bar Association in 2001 launched its Death Penalty Moratorium
Implementation Project as the next step toward a nationwide moratorium on
executions. The study was part of that project.
The lawyers' group is asking for a death penalty moratorium in those 8
states because of major racial disparities, incompetent defense services
for poor defendants and irregular clemency review processes, making those
death penalty systems operate unfairly. Their approach does not attempt to
test the waters of lethal injection being considered by the Supreme Court.
In 1977, execution by lethal injection became the legal method of enacting
the death penalty in Texas. The 1st prisoner executed by lethal injection
in the United States took place in Texas in 1982. All but 1 of the 38
U.S.states with the death penalty and the federal government use lethal
injection for executions. The only exception is Nebraska, which requires
We would suspect that the death penalty will not face any major changes
considering the current makeup of the high court, but it still bears
watching in the coming months.
(source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
The Last Lethal Injection?
The Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to prevent the state of Mississippi
from executing Earl Berry strengthened the court's de facto moratorium on
the death penalty. In the past 3 weeks, the justices have also halted
executions in Virginia and Texas. Executions are unlikely to be carried
out until the court decides whether the lethal injection protocol used in
nearly every state with the death penalty (the exception is Nebraska,
which still uses the electric chair) violates the Eighth Amendment by
causing the inmate to experience torture while being executed.
The moratorium began to take shape when the court announced Sept. 25 that
it would review a Kentucky case, Baze v. Rees, and address the
constitutionality of the 3-step protocol of lethal injections.
Perversely, though, the justices refused to intervene in a Texas case that
came before them that evening. As a result, Michael Richard was executed
about 8:20 that night. I was one of several lawyers representing Richard.
We had not planned on raising a lethal-injection challenge in his case.
Instead, we had pinned our hopes of saving Richard's life on the fact that
he was mentally retarded.
5 years ago, the high court ruled that states cannot execute people who
are mentally retarded. Richard had an IQ of 64 -- below the 70-point
cutoff for mental retardation. Richard had not presented this claim in
federal court because his court-appointed lawyer neglected to present the
evidence of Richard's IQ to the federal judge. When the lawyer notified
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that he had Parkinson's
disease and needed to withdraw, the court denied him permission to do so.
On the day of his scheduled execution, Richard had 2 petitions pending at
the Supreme Court: They asked the court to conclude that the 5th Circuit
hadn't given him a fair chance to present his evidence of mental
retardation and that, even if it had, the state still could not execute a
But the high court's decision that morning to hear the Kentucky case
created another option.
Richard's lawyers, all volunteers, decided to write a new appeal for
consideration in state court, raising the claim about lethal injections.
It is well known now that Sharon Keller, the chief judge of the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals, refused to allow us to file the pleadings at
5:30 p.m., when we finished preparing them. (The Texas court, unlike the
Supreme Court, does not accept electronic filings, and a series of
computer crashes in our office in Houston delayed our preparation of 10
hard copies of the 100-page petition and thus our ability to deliver them
on time to the court in Austin.) We pleaded with the court at least 3
times to stay open, but Keller would not make an exception to the policy
that the clerk's office closes at 5. Keller has correctly been criticized,
even vilified, for this decision. But the focus on Keller should not
absolve the others who share responsibility for this preventable travesty.
The Texas attorney general's office, for example, knew of our intentions
that day. Officials there also knew about the delay. Attorney General Greg
Abbott could have advised the warden not to proceed with Richard's
execution, but he elected not to. Gov. Rick Perry (R) knew what was
happening but did not act. The district attorney's office was aware of the
development in the Kentucky case and that we had attempted to file an
additional pleading citing that development, yet that office also declined
Finally, there is the Supreme Court. For half a decade lawyers have been
trying to get the high court to review the constitutionality of the
prevalent protocol for lethal injections. The justices knew what they had
done that morning in the Kentucky case. They also knew -- because we told
them in a last-minute pleading -- that the state court had closed its door
Yet the justices did nothing. They allowed the execution to proceed. Judge
Keller's decision, effectively consigning Michael Richard to death, was
reprehensible. But it was also typical of the arbitrariness and brazen
disregard for legal principle that characterizes most death penalty cases.
Since the Supreme Court set this moratorium in motion with its
announcement in September, nearly all of the more than 3,000 death row
inmates in America have had their lives extended -- all, that is, except
(source : Washington Post (David R. Dow is the Distinguished University
Professor at the University of Houston Law Center. He works with the
nonprofit Texas Defender Service and has represented more than 75 death
row inmates. He is writing a book on the virtues of judicial activism)
U.S. Cuts Back on Executions as It Debates Lethal Injections
The U.S. Supreme Court fight over lethal injections, a dispute that has
halted executions nationwide, is highlighting a decade-long trend away
from capital punishment.
The justices will consider whether lethal injections create an unnecessary
risk of suffering. The case might force as many 37 states to change the
way they execute people, adding more pressure to a death penalty system
already experiencing a slowdown.
Executions in the U.S. have declined almost every year since 1999, when 98
convicted murderers were put to death. This year 42 executions took place,
all by lethal injection, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty
Information Center. The U.S. and Japan are the only major industrialized
nations with capital punishment.
"We seem to be realizing that there really are serious concerns about the
death penalty in this country,'' said Deborah Denno, an expert on the
subject who teaches at Fordham University Law School in New York. "It's
not just the whimperings of some liberals who are trying to devise ways to
get the death penalty made unconstitutional.''
Almost 1,100 people have been executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court
reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 4 years after saying it was being
applied unconstitutionally. The 98 executions in 1999 were the most since
1951. 53 people were put to death last year.
The decline is due in part to concern that innocent people may be facing
execution. Since 1973, 124 people on death row have been exonerated, many
with the help of newly available DNA evidence.
In the most recent example, an Oklahoma judge in May released Curtis
McCarty, who had served 21 years in jail for murder, after concluding that
an Oklahoma City police chemist had tainted the evidence against him.
Concerns about innocence have made jurors less willing to impose death
sentences, says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center. Prosecutors, in turn, are seeking the penalty less
The number of death sentences imposed dropped to 128 in 2005 from 317 in
1996, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Justice
Statistics, an arm of the Justice Department.
"It's innocence that has caused a ripple effect throughout the death
penalty system,'' Dieter said. His organization, while not advocating
abolition of the death penalty, is critical of the way it is applied.
Better legal representation has also played a role, according to Dieter.
The New York-based Innocence Project alone says it has helped secure 208
exonerations in both capital and non-capital cases since being established
In addition, the Supreme Court has restricted the pool of people eligible
for the death penalty. The justices in 2002 declared executions of
mentally retarded people unconstitutional. 3 years later, the court barred
executions of people younger than 18 at the time of their crimes, saying
they "cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders.''
The latest Supreme Court case, which involves the 3- drug lethal injection
method used by Kentucky and dozens of other states, has effectively placed
a moratorium on executions until the justices rule, probably in May or
The court this week stayed the death sentence of a Mississippi man who
didn't object to the lethal-injection method until less than a month
before his scheduled execution. The justices previously blocked executions
in Texas and Virginia.
An August Execution?
The moratorium probably will end soon after the court rules, even if the
justices outlaw the 3-drug method. Denno and other experts say states
could come up with a new method in short order. Douglas Berman, a law
professor at Ohio State University who writes a blog on sentencing,
predicts the next execution will take place in August 2008.
"This is a blip,'' said Robert Blecker, a professor who specializes in the
death penalty at New York Law School. A ruling banning the 3-drug protocol
"can be easily remedied.''
Still, the lethal injection case is focusing attention on what critics say
is the unseemly reality of the death penalty. All but 1 of the 38 death
penalty states use lethal injections -- Nebraska, which hasn't conducted
an execution since 1977, still authorizes electrocution -- and almost all
of those use the same 3 chemicals.
Inmates are first injected with sodium pentothal, an anesthetic, followed
by pancuronium bromide, which causes the lungs to shut down and paralyzes
the body. The final chemical, potassium chloride, then induces a fatal
The high court will hear arguments from 2 Kentucky inmates who say lethal
injections have led to agonizing deaths for some prisoners. The appeal
points to botched executions in Florida and Ohio. The inmates also point
to a 2005 study, published in the medical journal Lancet, that said in 21
of 49 executions the prisoner endured a feeling of suffocation and a
burning sensation through the veins, followed by a heart attack.
The case is "another problem for the death penalty, another straw on the
camel's back that may eventually cause it to be abandoned, not out of
moral revulsion but simply out of a frustration,'' Dieter said.
Whether the trend will lead to abolition is far from clear. Blecker, an
advocate of the death penalty for especially egregious offenses, says he
doubts that will happen.
"I don't see the master trend away from the death penalty; I see a master
trend toward more careful consideration,'' he said. "The people are in
favor of it because, when you get right down to it, some people deserve to
The case is Baze v. Rees, 07-5439.
(source: Bloomberg News)
Put away all the death penalty machinery
As a practitioner of the death penalty, the United States is now in
virtual moral solitude among civilized nations. So it's sometimes hard not
to see the raging debates over capital punishment in this country as
somewhat arcane, and just a little bizarre.
That couldn't be truer than with the argument, set to reach the Supreme
Court this term, over whether the current protocols for lethal injection
amount to cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution. Turns out
some prisoners may be feeling pain during the procedure, but they're
unable to express it because they're paralyzed, and unconscious.
Now, the high court has never concluded that, say, sending 2,000 volts
through a prisoner's body is unconstitutional. The justices have never
hinted that sticking a prisoner in an airtight chamber with a mix of
cyanide and sulfuric acid is cruel, or unusual. Indeed, even hanging has
never been ruled unconstitutional in America.
States abandoned those procedures on their own, as conventional wisdom and
medical science came to agree that lethal injection was a more "civilized"
way of taking someone's life. So it would be a little strange, to say the
least, if the court were to now say that a certain way of mixing deadly
chemicals in a syringe was cruel and unusual; clever states might just
revert to the chair, or the gas chamber, as an easy response, right?
But all this is a just the absurd fallout from a discussion that has
itself become daffy. The debate over capital punishment seems terminally
hobbled by the internal inconsistency of trying to apply the rule of law,
and proper procedure, to the willful taking of life by the state. It's
trying to put a square argument in a round hole.
The better course might be to follow the advice of justice Harry Blackmun,
who announced in 1994 that he would no longer "tinker with the machinery
of death." Stop quibbling about how, and why and with what method to do
it, and begin talking forthrightly about whether the greatest nation on
Earth ought to engage in behavior that you have to visit Tehran or Rangoon
to see elsewhere.
It's the only death penalty question really worth answering anymore.
(source: Opinion, Detroit Free Press)
Overseas Democrats Differ With '08 Candidates Over Death Penalty
Leading Democratic 2008 presidential candidates may support retention of
the death penalty, but Democrats living overseas are speaking out against
The executive committee of Democrats Abroad, the umbrella organization for
Democrats living outside the United States, has called once again for
abolition of the death penalty.
Democrats Abroad, which passed resolutions against capital punishment in
2004 and 2000, said in a statement that it was "inconsistent with the
notions of human dignity and democracy."
"Capital punishment in the United States is an unethical system," said Joe
Smallhoover, the organization's international counsel. "We look forward to
the day when the United States will join every other Western democracy and
put an end to the death penalty once and for all."
However, the leading Democratic candidates in the 2008 presidential
campaign are in favor of the practice.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has long been a proponent and as First Lady
spoke in favor of increasing the number of federal crimes for which those
convicted could be executed.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has expressed doubts about capital
punishment but has said that he could accept it when "the community is
justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage." Former Sen. John
Edwards said during his 2004 campaign that there are some offenses that
deserve the ultimate penalty.
Democrats Abroad Executive Director Lindsey Reynolds said Wednesday that
many members of the organization are passionate about the issue.
However, the Democrats are a "big tent party" and would be able to respect
different opinions during the presidential campaign, she said.
"I don't think you're going to see any big clash," Reynolds added.
Democrats Abroad has also announced plans to hold the first-ever "online
global primary" for Americans outside the United States.
At the Democratic Convention next August, 22 delegates will represent
party members living overseas, it said.
>From February 5 to 12, any American over 18 years of age who is living
permanently or temporarily abroad, regardless of party affiliation, will
be able to vote on a special website for one of the current Democratic
Any candidate who receives more than 15 percent of the vote will then
receive a proportional share of the convention delegates.
At the same time, Democrats Abroad will hold caucus meetings across the
world in order to choose the actual delegates.
Democrats Abroad said it would work to ensure inclusion of
African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian-Pacific Americans
in the 22-member delegation, as well as homosexuals and lesbians, young
people and people with disabilities.
The Republican Party has not had overseas delegates at previous
conventions and has not announced that it will do so next year.
Sharon Manitta, a spokeswoman for long-shot Democratic candidate Rep.
Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, predicted that the overseas primary would help
the campaign, which has devoted time and resources to building up its
Manitta, a former Democrats Abroad spokeswoman in London, said the main
challenge of campaigning abroad is finding voters.
Although there are an estimated 6 to 10 million Americans living abroad
who are eligible to vote, she said, there is no central register.
"We have no list of who lives where," she said. "The challenge for
Democrats Abroad, and any candidate who is campaigning and fundraising
abroad, is to find those people."
In recent years, both parties have heavily invested in increasing turnout
among overseas voters. This year, Republican and Democratic candidates
have held major fundraising events in Britain.
According to a recent analysis by The Times of London, overseas donors
have already given more than $1 million to the various campaigns this
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