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7/25/2014 6:00:00 AM
Execution problems hand ammunition to death penalty opponents
Arizona joins list of states where inmate's death took a long time
Identified here is Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Kozinski said Thursday that properly trained firing squads are a
Identified here is Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kozinski said Thursday that properly trained firing squads are a "foolproof" way to quickly execute an inmate. (Ninth Judicial Circuit photo)
Judge: Bring back firing squads
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - An influential federal appeals court judge said Thursday that the nation's third lethal injection execution to go awry in six months underscores his call to bring back firing squads.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said lethal injection was a "dishonest" attempt to disguise the brutal nature of capital punishment.

Kozinski first wrote of his distaste for lethal injection in a decision Monday, even while arguing against delaying the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III in Phoenix.

Kozinski said properly trained firing squads are a "foolproof" way to quickly execute an inmate and avoid complications surrounding lethal injection.

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The nation's third botched execution in six months offers more evidence for the courts that lethal injection carries too many risks and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, death-row lawyers and other opponents said Thursday.

Death-penalty opponents say an Arizona inmate who gasped for breath for more than 90 minutes showed that executions using different drugs and dosages are a callous trial-and-error process. The result: Every few months, a prisoner gasps, chokes and takes an unusually long time to die.

"These executions are experiments on human subjects," said Cheryl Pilate, an attorney for several Missouri death-row inmates. "The potential for things to go wrong is almost unlimited."

Lethal injection has been challenged in the courts many times, mostly without success. The biggest recent obstacle for death-penalty states has been obtaining lethal chemicals after major drugmakers stopped selling drugs for use in executions. That forced states to find alternative drugs.

The drugs are mostly purchased from loosely regulated compounding pharmacies. Arizona, Texas, Florida and Missouri refuse to name the supplier and offer no details about how the drugs are tested or how executioners are trained.

The Supreme Court will probably face increasing pressure to examine how American executions are carried out, said Deborah Denno, a Fordham University School of Law death penalty expert.

"Every time this happens, it makes it far more difficult for a state corrections department to justify using a drug such as midazolam that's so consistently problematic, and to justify the secrecy," Denno said.

Problem drug

Some death-penalty opponents are zeroing in on midazolam, a sedative commonly given to people with seizures. It was first used in an execution in October in Florida.

This year, three of the 10 U.S. executions using the drug have gone wrong. The latest was Wednesday, when Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood took two hours to die. He was put to death for killing his former girlfriend and her father.

Most lethal injections kill in a fraction of that time, often within 10 or 15 minutes.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered a review of the state's execution protocol. Wood's lawyer demanded an independent investigation.

Governors in Ohio and Oklahoma ordered similar reviews after bungled executions in those states earlier this year.

In January, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire snorted and gasped for 26 minutes before dying. State corrections officials have said they do not believe McGuire suffered, but they increased the drug dosage "to allay any remaining concerns."

In April, Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after his execution began. The state's prison's chief directed the executioner to stop administering the drugs when he learned there was a problem with the IV.

Both Arizona and Ohio used a two-drug protocol of midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. Oklahoma used a three-drug combination of midazolam, the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

State protocols on how to use midazolam vary greatly. Some inject it as part of a two-drug method, others three. The amount of the drug given also varies. Ohio used 10 milligrams of midazolam in the McGuire execution. Oklahoma's protocol calls for 100 milligrams. Florida uses 500 milligrams.

"They don't know," Denno said. "We don't have experts on how to inject someone to death."

Texas and Missouri, two of the most active death penalty states, use the single drug pentobarbital. Still, death row lawyers say the same potential exists for problems to occur.

Appeals planned

Pilate and James Rytting, a Houston lawyer who represents several condemned inmates in Texas, plan to cite the botched Arizona execution in appeals for inmates awaiting execution.

"These agonizing and horrifying situations are going to happen," Rytting said.

Texas plans no changes based on what happened in Arizona, corrections spokesman Jason Clark said, noting that Texas uses pentobarbital.

"The agency has used this protocol since 2012 and has carried out 33 executions without complication," Clark said.

Ohio corrections spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the state is "always evaluating" policies to ensure executions "are carried out in a humane and lawful manner."

Florida death-row attorney Sonya Rudenstine said it's possible that Florida inmates have also suffered.

She has asked the state to eliminate the paralytic drug during the upcoming execution of inmate Paul Howell, but the Department of Corrections refused. She said Howell made the request because the paralytic causes pain and could prevent authorities from knowing if he has a bad reaction to midazolam.

ICT - Hummingbead of Kingman
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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014
Article comment by: revert back 120 yrs

This nation would do well to go back to basics concerning judgement and sentencing.

We didn't have over crowded death row's or "botched executions".

A convicted person's sentence was executed A.S.A.P. If the rain stops the hanging or firing squad can get underway today...

We didn't put death row prisoners on the lunch line. We buried them.

Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2014
Article comment by: ILove It

I agree with everyone here. I think the inmates should suffer the same way the victims did. How much do we pay for these drugs that are used during executions? I think a rope or a firing squad would save us a lot of money. I do like how inmates have to stew in prison, doing nothing but thinking. I couldn't imagine living in those conditions. But than again what does it cost the state to house all of these inmates for 20-30 years? Maybe we should just off them within 24 hours of their conviction. I understand everyone has their rights even inmates, but to worry about how they feel during their execution, why are they on that table in the first place?

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014
Article comment by: That one girl

With the assumption that the inmates facing death row are guilty of the crime they are being put to death for...such as the man described in the last botched is the death of this man horribly inhumane? Assuming he killed his girlfriend and her father...I don't see how this is being made into a large issue with demands of thorough investigations in regard to the drugs being used. OH LORD DON'T LET THE MAN WHO KILLED TWO HUMAN BEINGS SUFFER. Maybe this is just how I feel, but this could be fixed if firing squads were introduced, but there is strong opposition and would take forever to push that through. I guess we can just sit back and watch everyone complain about this problem, and be assured that nothing will be done about least for a long while.

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014
Article comment by: Just Wondering

OH, these poor death-row inmates now want to be part of the human race. SO, did the people you murdered. Pure human ego to think these thugs deserve humane treatment when they commit such an inhumane act. The money wasted on these thugs could help so many deserving humans.

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014
Article comment by: Dennis Jablonski

I don't believe that capital punishment is 'not' some measure of a deterrent against violent/serious crime. Cruel and unusual punishment seems to be reserved for victims instead of perpetrators. You can hang a lot of criminals with just one simple rope.

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014
Article comment by: Rich Vegas

Humane???????? How bout an eye for an eye????? THIS COUNTRY IS GOING BACKWARDS I would vote for anyone who will be ok to make these murderers suffer for their crimes. Dammit lets get these bleeding hearts out of office and make it clear that we want JUSTICE for the victims and stop worrying about criminals rights. They kill and take rights away from honest people, and no one worries about the families and lives that are ruined

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014
Article comment by: jack A LOPE

i never did hear of a firing squad called cruel and/or unusual. Nor a rope. Quick, easy ..... who ever said it needs to be painless.

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014
Article comment by: justanobody sr

was there this much concern when this vicious criminal killed the victims?
maybe all condemned murderers should be forced to dies slowly and in great pain, like they did to their victims!
me personally, I say firing squad, and do it with in 24 hrs of their conviction! none of the 20yrs later BS

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