Do botched executions violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment

July 27, 2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Good afternoon:

Do botched executions violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment?

The State of Arizona botched the execution last Wednesday of Joseph Wood. People who witnessed his execution said he he gasped and snorted over 600 times for almost two hours before he was finally pronounced dead

Arizona used the same two drugs, midazolam and hyrdromorphone, following the same protocol that Ohio used to execute Dennis McGuire in January. Witnesses reported that he snorted, gasped, and struggled for about 25 minutes before he was pronounced dead.

Similar symptoms suggests that administering the two drugs according to the protocol will not not achieve the intended result, unless the intended result is to assure conscious awareness of suffering and dying in a paralyzed state.

Such a policy would constitute torture and violate the Eighth Amendment.

Midazolam is a sedative and hydromorphone is a painkiller. According to anesthesiologists,

the new cocktail of drugs could cause a condition called “air hunger,” in which the inmate would gasp for air but be unable to absorb oxygen.

The Death Penalty Information Center is reporting that Ohio switched to using the two drugs after state officials exhausted the state’s supply of pentobarbital and could not replenish it due to the manufacturer’s decision to ban the use of its product to kill people by conditioning sales to distributors on their agreement not to redistribute or sell the drug to states that use it to execute people.

And lest we forget,

In Oklahoma in April, convicted killer Clayton Lockett writhed in pain and a needle became dislodged during his lethal injection at a state prison. The execution was halted, but Lockett died about 30 minutes later of a heart attack

Before we can reach an evidence-based opinion regarding whether the two-drug cocktail violates the Eighth Amendment, we will have to wait until the autopsy results establishing Mr. Wood’s cause of death are published and reviewed by qualified medical experts.

In other news:

Despite a population that constitutes only 5% of the world population, our jails and prisons hold 25% of the people who are imprisoned in the world.

Finally, some good news. The Sentencing Project reported last week,

A new report by The Sentencing Project examines the potential for substantial prison population reductions. Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States profiles the experiences of three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – that have reduced their prison populations by about 25% while seeing their crime rates generally decline at a faster pace than the national average.

This is our 1156th post.

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Thanks,

Fred


Oklahoma botches execution and lies about it

June 15, 2014

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers and good morning to all:

Oklahoma botched the execution of Clayton Lockett in April and then lied about it.

Mother Jones reports:

Oklahoma officials initially claimed that Lockett’s executioners had been forced to insert an IV line into the inmate’s femoral vein—a painful place for the insertion and also a risky one that requires serious medical expertise—after running into difficulty finding another suitable vein. They also suggested that dehydration or another medical condition might have led to Lockett’s botched execution.

Lockett’s lawyers retained a medical examiner, who performed an autopsy on the prisoner. Dr. Joseph Cohen’s findings, which were released today, raise serious questions about the official account. The autopsy indicates that Lockett’s vein never blew—because the IV was never inserted there in the first place. Instead, the needle punctured the vein. Cohen also determined that there was nothing wrong with the veins in Lockett’s arms that would have justified using a femoral vein, nor was he dehydrated. Yet he found “skin punctures on the extremities and right and left femoral areas,” and proof that the execution team had tried to set lines in both of Lockett’s arms and both sides of his groin. Cohen also found more evidence of inept handiwork in hemorrhages around the places the team had tried to access a vein, as well as other injuries related to “failed vascular catheter access.”

Oklahoma has suspended further executions pending the outcome of an investigation.

I recall that Lockett writhed in pain for more than 40 minutes before he died and a heart attack was listed as the official cause of death. Makes me wonder what really stopped his heart.

(H/T to Betty-Kath for alerting me to Dr. Cohen’s findings)

If you appreciate what we do, please make a donation to help us keep the lights on.

Thanks,

Fred


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