[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 26 23:55:01 CST 2007
Legal challenge forces death to take holiday
It's too late for Stephen Wayne Anderson, the last Inland killer executed
by the state. But for condemned inmates whose appeals are nearing the end,
an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case could alter the way they get the
3-drug lethal-injection cocktail used in executions nationwide.
At issue before the Supreme Court is not the death penalty itself, but
whether the protocols used in administering lethal injections violate the
Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The debate
has halted executions across the country.
The drugs used to anesthetize, paralyze and stop the heart of condemned
inmates can, if administered incorrectly, cause a sensation of suffocation
and excruciating pain, lawyers and doctors said.
"This method, which everybody thought would be much less cruel and a more
humane way to kill people, maybe isn't so humane," said Frank Peasley, a
Riverside lawyer who has defended eight capital cases but does not oppose
the death penalty. Some people deserve to die because of the atrocity of
their crimes, he said.
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case filed by attorneys for two
Kentucky inmates, Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr., who contend
that the protocol creates "an unnecessary risk of suffering." In hearings
set to start in January, they will ask the high court to set a standard
for lethal injection.
Used by 36 States
Lethal injection is used in all but one of the 37 states that have the
death penalty -- Nebraska uses the electric chair -- and most use the same
Among the potential problems cited by foes of lethal injection: The
execution team is unable to find a suitable vein for the intravenous drip;
the flow from the intravenous drip is directed toward the hand rather than
the heart; the chemicals are shot into tissue instead of the bloodstream;
or the prisoner does not react normally to the drugs. Such problems could
cause an inmate to feel torturous pain from the final two drugs, even
while sedated from the first drug.
Increasing numbers of court cases challenging lethal injection have sprung
up in the past few years.
In a recent case in federal court in California, an expert witness
testified that intravenous bags for administering the drugs at San Quentin
State Prison hang from ducts so high that it would be impossible to
determine whether they were working properly. The leader of the execution
team testified that he had carried out executions while he was suffering
from post-traumatic stress disorder and was taking antidepressants and
after he had been disciplined for a drunken-driving conviction.
After the 2002 execution of Inland killer Anderson, who shot 81-year-old
Elizabeth Lyman in the bed of her Bloomington home, opponents of capital
punishment were astounded that the procedure had taken 29 minutes to
complete, twice as long as most. Even after Anderson was unconscious, his
stomach heaved dozens of times for about four minutes, far more than the
once or twice that is typical, witnesses said.
In their arguments, opponents cite the 2005 execution of Stanley "Tookie"
Williams, founder of the Crips gang, who had shot and killed 4 people
during robberies in 1979. In the death chamber at San Quentin, north of
San Francisco, it took the execution team 20 minutes to set the
intravenous lines, causing Williams to wonder, "You doing that right?,"
according to witness accounts.
Attorneys in court filings have said a nurse, after struggling to start a
backup line in Williams' left arm, left the chamber in frustration without
setting it properly, and the execution continued without the backup.
'I Just Want Him to Hurt'
Riverside resident Carol McVeigh, whose son was murdered during a 1994
robbery, is tired of the debate about killers' rights. "What about the
victims?" she wonders.
McVeigh's son, Tim, 34, was working as night manager at an Orange County
supermarket when Stephen Redd entered the store with a gun and demanded
money. Tim was shot point blank in the stomach and bled to death three
hours later. McVeigh can't help thinking about Tim's slow and painful
death. She often wonders what her son, an aspiring commercial pilot and a
history buff, would be doing today.
Whatever Redd's punishment -- death or life in prison -- McVeigh said she
wants it carried out. If he is finally executed after more than 20 years
of appeals and he suffers some pain in the process, she is OK with that.
"When I hear that it's cruel and inhuman punishment, was it not what (many
convicted killers) do?" McVeigh asked. "I just want him to hurt, and maybe
that will cause him someday to have remorse."
When the Supreme Court takes up the matter, it will be the first time in
more than a century that it has ruled on an execution method. Over the
years, the United States has used hanging, firing squads, poison gas and
electrocution to execute its condemned killers.
Even before the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, California's
executions already were on hold.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Francisco blocked the
execution of Michael Morales, who was condemned for the 1981 murder of
17-year-old Terri Winchell, of Lodi. Fogel, concerned that the sedation
drug might not work, ordered prison officials to have medical experts
oversee the execution to ensure that the man was not in pain.
When medical professionals refused to participate, all state executions
After hearings, Fogel ruled that the state's methods were flawed and
unconstitutional because executioners lacked proper screening, training
and supervision, improperly mixed the fatal drugs, worked in inadequate
facilities and failed to keep reliable records.
The state has proposed revisions to the procedure, including the
construction of a new death chamber. Fogel is awaiting the Supreme Court's
decision before proceeding with the case.
Further complicating the issue was a ruling last month by a Superior Court
judge in Marin County, who said the state's proposed new lethal-injection
protocols were invalid because they were not subjected to public comment
or reviewed by the office that oversees state regulations.
Dennis Christy, an assistant district attorney in San Bernardino County,
said prosecutors are concerned about the impact of the delays on families
of victims, who suffer "tremendously waiting for finalization and the
opportunity for closure."
Capital punishment is the law, and not carrying out the sentences is
contrary to the will of voters, he said.
Nation's Largest Death Row
California has the largest death row in the country, with 660 inmates
awaiting execution; 96 of them are from Riverside and San Bernardino
counties. Only 13 people have been executed since voters reinstated the
death penalty in 1978.
In the past 5 years, more California death row inmates have died from
suicide or natural causes than have been executed, according to state
Department of Corrections records.
Among the inmates appealing their cases is one of Peasley's most infamous
clients, William Lester Suff, convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for
the slayings of a dozen prostitutes he had picked up in Riverside and Lake
Elsinore between 1989 and 1991.
"He'll die a natural death before all the appeals ... are done," Peasley
said. "If any of them get executed, it will probably be long after I'm
'It Doesn't Make Sense'
The tremendous cost and lengthy appeals of capital cases make the death
penalty impractical, said Peasley, who prefers a sentence of life
imprisonment so the families of victims can have closure.
"When people's crimes are so atrocious and they've lived such a life in
which they preyed upon other people, I think people forfeit their right to
live," he said. "But I just think that (the death penalty) is so unwieldy
that from a pragmatic standpoint, it doesn't make sense."
Housing an inmate on death row is expensive, according to a 2005 study
cited by Death Penalty Focus, an anti-execution group. With individual
cells and extra guards, it costs $90,000 a year more for a condemned
inmate than a prisoner serving a sentence of life in prison without
parole. Millions more dollars are spent on attorneys involved in the
appeals process, according to the study.
Riverside lawyer Steve Harmon, who has defended five capital cases, said
the price is too high when the state needs new schools and highways. He
also said the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent.
"It is absurd to kill people to get them to stop killing other people.
That is the worst kind of example. What pro death penalty people say is
that we need the death penalty to protect us, and I have never encountered
anyone, never, who stopped and thought and decided not to kill somebody
because of the death penalty," Harmon said.
Death-penalty proponent Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal
Foundation called the latest round of challenges "a hiccup" in the system.
The efforts to challenge lethal injection may ultimately backfire on
death-penalty foes because once the matter is settled, states probably
will start executing killers more quickly, he said.
"It's like plugging a hole in the dam. The whole thing is going to go very
soon," he said. "It's resulted in about a year of delays, and it will be
settled in a few months."
Rushford said his group is supporting a proposed initiative for next
year's ballot that seeks to speed up the appeals process, which, in
California, leaves killers on death row for an average of 17 years.
The public's frustration with a long appeals process and a lack of
executions is among problems with the death penalty, said Richard Dieter
of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Even before the latest series of court actions, death-penalty sentences
nationwide had decreased, he said, adding that there were 330 in 1999 and
128 in 2005, he said. Executions also have declined from 98 in 1999 to 53
And despite steady voter support for the death penalty across the United
States over the past 50 years, some states are beginning to question
capital punishment. Voters in New Jersey will decide next month whether to
"The rationale seems to be we're not getting anything out of this. The
frustration of it not being of much use, risks of mistakes and unfairness:
It's that bigger package of problems with the death penalty that I think
is causing its demise," Dieter said. "Lethal injection is just another
straw on the camel's back."
(source: Commentary, Janet Zimmerman; Press-Enterprise)
Death Chamber of Secrets
"It never occurred to me when we set this up that we'd have complete
idiots administering the drugs." So said Jay Chapman, the Oklahoma doctor
who developed the infamous three-drug cocktail used by many states to
execute people - the same concoction that is now under constitutional
review before the U.S. Supreme Court. As part of the secrecy surrounding
the execution process, we do not really know who the people carrying out
lethal injections are. But thanks to a recent lawsuit in Missouri, we know
a little bit about one of these people.
He is a doctor from Missouri called Dr. Doe. He has been barred from
practice in two hospitals, been the subject of numerous malpractice
lawsuits and has been forbidden by a federal judge from "participat[ing]
in any manner, at any level, in the State of Missouri's lethal injection
Dr. Doe's transgressions were not brought to light by the state, but as
the result of a lawsuit filed by a condemned inmate. And we learned a lot
from Dr. Doe's own testimony. The doctor admitted under oath that he has
dyslexia. He testified that his dyslexia renders him unable to work with
numbers, so, Dr. Doe said, "it's not unusual for me to make mistakes." He
testified "that he had cut the thiopental [the drug that renders a person
unconscious] dosage he gave inmates by half because a change in drug
packaging forced him to 'improvise'." According to an amicus brief filed
with the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month, Dr. Doe participated in
more than 50 executions in Missouri in which he "varied the amount of
thiopental he gave inmates on a whim, without informing anyone." Just as
Doe was not informing anyone about his improvisation, the state of
Missouri did not inform anyone about the unqualified doctor running its
lethal injection system.
Where has Dr. Doe ended up now that he no longer executes prisoners in
Missouri? Astoundingly, the federal government has made him as part of its
execution team. Although the U.S. Bureau of Prisons cites a policy of not
publicly disclosing the names of staff members involved with lethal
injections, we know that Dr. Doe will possibly replicate his abysmal
performance in Missouri on the national level because he testified about
his new job in the inmate's lawsuit.
If ignorance is bliss, then your government wants you ecstatically unaware
of the lethal injection process. Indeed, if it were not for lawsuits filed
by condemned inmates, we may have never learned how poorly the death
penalty system is run. Much of this information about Dr. Doe and other
lethal injection issues is available on lethalinjection.org, a website run
by the Death Penalty Clinic at UC Berkeley's law school.
But even with lawsuits and websites we still have to fight to get
information. Even the Show Me State kept its citizens blind to the fact
that a doctor, found unfit to practice in two hospitals, was overseeing
the execution of inmates. Only government transparency will allow us to
see the absurdity of a system that allows a doctor who cannot perform
executions of prisoners in one state to participate in the executions of
inmates from all over the country. We need to see it to believe it.
(source: Commentary, Christopher HIll, Huffington Post)
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