Death Penalty Information Center


Nancy Mullane, a reporter for KALW Radio in San Francisco, is one of the few reporters to visit California‘s death row at San Quentin Prison. In the block she visited, there were 500 inmates, in 4-by-10 foot cells, stacked five tiers high. The cells are about the size of a walk-in closet. Many of the inmates have been on death row for over 20 years. Inmates can shower every other day. One of the inmates she met with, Justin Helzer, had stabbed himself in both eyes. He later committed suicide. California has the largest death row in the country with 727 inmates. No one has been executed in 7 years. Listen to the full segment here.

new animated film, The Last 40 Miles, will follow a death row inmate on his final journey from the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, to the death chamber in Huntsville. The film uses three forms of animation to tell the inmate’s story, from his tragic childhood to the moment he is being escorted to the lethal injection chamber. The script was written by freelance journalist Alex Hannaford and is based on interviews he conducted with death row inmates for news stories. Hannaford described why he used the metaphor of the trip to the death chamber: “It struck me a long time ago that this was the last thing these men see as they’re escorted from death row in Livingston to the death chamber at the Walls Unit in Huntsville. One of the last things they see is that big Texas sun rising over a vast lake. It’s quite breathtaking.” A trailer for the short film can be viewed here.

One For Ten is a new collection of documentary films telling the stories of innocent people who were on death row in the U.S. The first film of the series is on Ray Krone, one of the 142 people who have been exonerated and freed from death row since 1973. Krone was released from Arizona’s death row in 2002 after DNA testing showed he did not commit the murder for which he was sentenced to death 10 years earlier. Krone was convicted based largely on circumstantial evidence and bite-mark evidence, alleging his teeth matched marks on the victim. The film is narrated by Danny Glover.  All the films will be free and may be shared under a Creative Commons license.

CA InfographicThe Death Penalty Information Center has introduced a new series of graphs and quotes from prominent individuals, emphasizing various death penalty issues. These infographics have been displayed on Facebook and other outlets in the past few months. We are now offering them serially in a slide show on DPIC’s website. The graphics can be individually downloaded for use in various mediums. The slide show is available at this link. The infographics are grouped under a range of topics such as Costs, Race, and Innocence, with more information on each topic available on DPIC’s site. You can also find this collection of infographics on Facebook (click on any “photo” and it will enlarge, and you can scroll through the entire series) and on Pinterest. New infographics will be added in the coming months.



A new documentary released by the Constitution Project and the New Media Advocacy Project commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, requiring states to appoint lawyers for indigent defendants in criminal cases. Prior to this decision, some states only provided attorneys in cases with special circumstances, like death penalty cases. Defending Gideon is narrated by Martin Sheen and includes interviews with national experts, including former Vice-President Walter Mondale, former N.Y. Times reporter Anthony Lewis, and death-penalty attorney Bryan Stevenson. Clarence Gideon was convicted, without an attorney, of breaking into a pool hall in Florida and stealing money. When he was retried with legal counsel, he was acquitted. The video underscores the importance of guaranteeing effective representation, especially if a person’s life is at stake.

Death Row Unlikely to Be Source for Organ Donations

Before Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon established a moratorium on his state’s death penalty last year, Christian Longo, a death row inmate, started a campaign to allow the condemned to donate their organs.

Longo argued that a new execution protocol that many states — including Texas — have adopted leaves inmates’ organs viable for transplantation.

“While I can potentially help in saving one life with a kidney donation now, one preplanned execution can additionally save from 6 to 10 more lives,” Longo wrote in a plea that Oregon officials denied.

No state allows death row inmates to donate their organs. Although Texas recently abandoneda three-drug cocktail in favor of a single-drug method for execution, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it did not intend to change its policy. There are 11,000 Texans on the organ transplant waiting list.

Criminal justice and medical experts say that the idea of recovering organs from willing convicted murderers is fraught with moral, ethical and medical challenges that make it unlikely to ever be an option.

“It’s complicated in ways that are very messy and very fuzzy,” said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

The Criminal Justice Department allows offenders in the general prison population to donate organs, such as kidneys, while they are alive in certain cases and after death if they complete a donor form.

The prospect of death row organ donation, though, prompts several questions, said Dr. David Orentlicher, a co-director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Is an inmate giving free and informed consent, or is he hoping to win favorable treatment? Would a donation affect jurors in murder cases who are weighing the death penalty versus life sentences? Or prosecutors deciding whether to seek the death penalty? Or governors deciding whether to grant clemency?

There is also the possibility that allowing death row organ donation could lead jurors to issue more death sentences, Orentlicher said.

For prospective recipients, there are emotional and mental considerations, he added.

“People might say, ‘Gosh, I’m walking around with the organ of a murderer,’” he said. “It may be irrational, but I suspect that’s lurking there.”

The condemned have a high risk of carrying diseases like hepatitis and HIV And conditions in the death chamber are not conducive to organ recovery, said Mike Rosson, regional director of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance. To keep organs viable, they must have oxygen after the brain dies, which means the donor must be on a ventilator, and surgery must be done quickly.

“You don’t have the facility for recovery, and you have transplant surgeons whose oath is to do no harm,” Rosson said. “The situation is just ethically challenging.”

Even if all the moral, ethical and medical questions could be adequately addressed, he said, the yield of usable organs from death row inmates is likely to be small.

“I think there are avenues other than prisoners that the effort expended toward trying to increase donation would be better spent,” Rosson said.

TEXAS – Death row inmate contests the drug – Preston Hughes

September 25, 2012

Preston Hughes, who has been on death row for 23 years for fatally stabbing a teenage girl and a toddler, is suing the state of Texas over the drug it plans to use to execute him in November, claiming officials are “experimenting” on him and other inmates.

Hughes, 46, is arguing that prison officials, facing a shortage of drugs for the three drug “cocktail” formerly used for lethal injection, did no medical testing before changing the protocol to using a single drug, according to court records.

“They are experimenting on death row inmates because there’s never been any kind of medical review, that we know about, that this is a humane way to carry out their legal function,” said Pat McCann, one of Hughes’ attorneys. “I’m not saying they can’t execute people. I’m saying they ought to give it more thought than the time it takes to play a round of golf.”

Officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but said agency officials examined the execution procedures in other states before changing the procedure.

“The one drug protocol has been adopted by several states and has been upheld as constitutional by the courts,” spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement.

Single, lethal dose

The execution protocol was changed from a three-drug sequence to a single, lethal dose of pentobarbital in July because TDCJ’s stock of the second drug expired and it couldn’t get more.

Anti-death penalty groups have for years been pressuring drug companies, especially in Europe, to stop making or selling drugs used in executions.

Since July, three Texas inmates have been executed using one drug.

No testing

The new procedure, McCann said, was put in to effect without any tests.

“They changed the cocktail, fairly dramatically, because they could get it on sale and stockpile it,” McCann said. “But they’re not doctors and they’re not entitled to experiment on my client.”

He said TDCJ did not seek out opinions from any professional in the medical, psychiatric, or psychological fields about whether the new drug would be “cruel and unusual punishment.”

‘Some merit’

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the lawsuit should be litigated, but is unlikely to stop any executions.

“There is some merit to the claim that it is experimenting,” Dieter said. “In the medical field, you would want experts weighing in on what the best protocol would be.”

However, he said, the standard to get a stay of execution is a high hurdle.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has said you have to show a substantial risk of serious pain, not just allege there may be problems,” Dieter said. “There is some merit to the claim, but it’s an ethical claim. Legally, it may have some trouble.”

Hughes is scheduled to be executed Nov. 15 for fatally stabbing a teenage girl and a 3-year-old boy in September 1988.

Girl was raped

Hughes, then 22, was convicted of killing La Shandra Rena Charles, 15, and her cousin, Marcell Lee Taylor, 3, on a dirt trail behind a restaurant in the 2400 block of South Kirkwood.

A medical examiner testified Charles had been raped. Before she died from a stab wound in her throat, Charles was able to tell a police officer that “Preston” did it to her.

When Hughes was arrested, he was on probation for raping a 13-year-old girl in 1985.

MISSOURI – 19 Missouri Death Row Inmates Awaiting High Court Ruling

June 15, 2012 Source :

St. LOUIS (KMOX) – Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is prodding the state supreme court to set some execution dates for 19 individuals.

Koster said  it’s been more than a year since Missouri carried out an execution, largely due to concerns over whether the old three drug system was cruel and unusual punishment.

We have a law in the state of Missouri, the death penalty law is very clear and our filing  was a recognition that the Supreme Court can not simply be silent on this issue.”

“It needs to answer these questions one way or another, and so the single drug protocol that has been developed by the department of corrections,  will probably come under scrutiny over the enxt several months but it is time to move this process forward and silence on this issue is really not an option.”

Last month, Missouri became the first state in the nation to adopt, Propofol, a surgical anesthetic as its execution drug. After Koster asked the high court to set execution dates, it filed orders in six cases, asking inmates to “show cause” why they shouldn’t be executed. They have until June 29 to respond.

Propofol,  is  the same anesthetic that caused the overdose death of pop star Michael Jackson.  Critics question how the state can guarantee a drug untested for lethal injection won’t cause pain and suffering for the condemned.

Propofol, made by AstraZeneca and marketed as Diprivan, gained notoriety following Jackson’s death in 2009. Spokespeople for AstraZeneca and its U.S. marketer, APP, declined comment on its use in executions. But Dieter questioned if enough research has been done.

“Any drug used for a new purpose on human subjects should certainly be tested very, very carefully,” Dieter said. “I can only imagine the things that might go wrong.”

Adding to the concern, some say, is Missouri’s written protocol which, like the one it replaced, does not require a physician to be part of the execution team. It states that a “physician, nurse, or pharmacist” prepares the chemicals, and a “physician, nurse or emergency medical technician … inserts intravenous lines, monitors the prisoner, and supervises the injection of lethal chemicals by nonmedical members of the execution team.”

Jonathan Groner, an Ohio State University surgeon who has studied lethal injection extensively, said propofol is typically administered by either an anesthesiologist, who is a physician, or a nurse anesthetist under the physician’s direct supervision. Improper administration could cause a burning sensation or pain at the injection site, he said.

Groner said high doses of propofol will kill by causing respiratory arrest. But the dosage must be accurate and the process must move swiftly because propofol typically wears off in just a few minutes.

“If they start breathing before the heart stops, they might not die,” Groner said. That would force the process to be restarted.

Critics also question the safety of the single-drug method. Missouri becomes the third state with a single-drug protocol, along with Arizona and Ohio. Three others — South Dakota, Idaho and Washingtonhave options for single- or multiple-drug executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. California and Kentucky are exploring a switch to the one-drug method.

Mississippi may see most executions since 1950s

June 11, 2012 Source :

With four execution so far and two scheduled this month, Mississippi is on pace to have more executions in 2012 than it has had in any year since the 1950s.

The last time Mississippi executed more than four inmates in any single year was in 1961, when five died in the gas chamber. There were eight executions in each of the years 1955 and 1956. In those days, inmates were put to death for crimes like armed robbery, rape or murder. Today, the only crime punishable by death in Mississippi is capital murder — a murder that happens during the commission of another felony.

The increase in executions comes as fewer people are being sentenced to death across the country. Some experts say the upward trend in Mississippi isn’t likely to last.

Don Cabana, a former Mississippi corrections commissioner and author of the book, “Death At Midnight: The Confessions of an Executioner,” said the increase “was absolutely predictable” and has more to do with timing and the pace of appeals than anything else.

“You have a number of people who have been sitting on death row for a long time whose cases kind of simultaneously, or in close proximity, started exhausting their appeals,” Cabana said.

Three of the men executed so far this year were convicted of crimes committed in 1995 and the other was convicted in the 1990 stabbing deaths of four children.

Jan Michael Brawner, who’s scheduled for execution on Tuesday, was convicted in the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, his ex-wife and her parents in Tate County. Gary Carl Simmons Jr., scheduled to die by injection June 20, was convicted of shooting and dismembering a man in Pascagoula over a drug debt in 1996.

“Mississippi went for a long time with no executions, or hardly any executions. It’s due to the slowness of the appellate process. But now these cases are coming to fruition,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that collects and analyzes information on the death penalty.

Jim Craig, an attorney who has worked on appeals for death row inmates, believes there’s more to it than that.

Craig said that seven out of 11 men executed in Mississippi since 2008 were represented on appeal by the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel when it was led by attorney Bob Ryan, who took over the office in 2002. Glenn S. Swartzfager took over the office in 2008.

In a 2006 affidavit obtained by The Associated Press, Ryan described a situation in which the office lacked manpower and funding and he sometimes relied on trial summaries when filing appeals in numerous cases. At one point, he was essentially “the sole counsel on 21 cases,” he wrote in the affidavit.

Craig says he’s convinced that some of those men would be alive, either still appealing their cases or having their death sentences reduced, if they had better representation. Craig said many appeals were filed based only on the court transcript, and the post-conviction office didn’t bother to interview witnesses.

“This is more than just the usual things moving at the usual speed. This is a breakdown in the system of providing lawyers to poor people when the state is trying to execute them,” he said.

The Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel was created by the Legislature in 2000 to represent indigent death row inmates in appeals.

“A pace of one or two executions a year is about what Mississippi has averaged. The reason why we have had 11 since 2008, I think it has to do with the failures of the post-conviction office in those years,” Craig said.

The number of executions in Mississippi has fluctuated from year to year. There were two executions last year, three in 2010, none in 2009 and two in 2008. There also have been long gaps in executions over the years because of litigation. There were lulls between 1964 and 1983 and again from 1989 to 2002.

So far this year, Mississippi is only one execution behind Texas. Texas, however, has more executions scheduled for the remainder of the year than Mississippi. Texas has executed some 460 more people than Mississippi since 1976, but Texas has a much larger population.

There are 52 inmates on death row in Mississippi, which ranks 15th among death penalty states. Two of the inmates on Mississippi’s death row are women, though it has been decades since a woman was executed in Mississippi. California has the most death row inmates with around 723.

Richard Jordan, 66, who was first convicted in 1977, is the oldest person on Mississippi’s death row and has been there the longest, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Jordan has an appeal pending in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

ALABAMA – Expense and execution – Death-penalty cost issue resurges as state struggles

May 30, 2012 Source :

As many states look for ways to reduce spending, a battle is brewing between supporters and opponents of the death penalty.

Opponents contend states could save millions of dollars by abolishing the death penalty. Proponents argue the death penalty is needed to punish defendants convicted of heinous homicides, even when it means decades of paying attorneys to argue the merits of a death sentence and for housing an inmate, such as former Sheffield resident Tommy Arthur.

Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw, chief of Alabama’s death penalty litigators, said he is unsure how much the state has spent attempting to carry out Arthur’s execution, which was first ordered in 1983.

“It’s been so long, I’m not sure if anyone knows how much the state has spent keeping Tommy Arthur on death row all these years,” Crenshaw said.

Arthur, 70, has been on death row for 29 years for the 1982 murder-for-hire killing of Muscle Shoals resident Troy Wicker. His conviction was overturned twice on technicalities. The state Supreme Court has set an execution date for Arthur five times only to have it halted when defense attorneys raised legal issues, most recently in March when they objected to Alabama’s use of the drug pentobarbital in executions.

Arthur continues to maintain his innocence.

Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said the agency does not keep tabs on the amount of money spent on legal fees for death row inmates, only the cost of housing them, which is now about $43 per day. He said the department does not separate the cost of housing inmates on death row from the expense of keeping them in other areas of a prison.

Alabama has 101 men and four women on death row. The average age of the death row inmates is 41 and they have been there an average of 11 years and 7 months, Corbett said.

Richard Deiter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, said states typically do not keep track of the amount of money spent on a single inmate from the time they are sentenced to death until an execution takes place.

“There’s probably not anyone in Alabama who knows exactly how much money has been spent keeping Mr. Arthur on death row, but there is no doubt it has been very expensive,” Deiter said. “All states need to take a serious look at how much they are spending on death penalty cases and decide if it is money well spent.”

Crime victims groups and death penalty proponents contend the cost of capital punishment is offset by the value it provides in deterring homicides and punishing criminals convicted of the most heinous murders.

Deiter contends the money spent on executions should be used to prevent crime.

“The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime,” Deiter said. “Some of the states with the highest number of executions also have the highest homicide rates. Studies have shown it can cost more than $30 million to carry out an execution. Only one in 10 death penalty cases results in an execution and when you combine the legal fees for the appeals of all of those defendants, it makes that one execution very costly. That money could be better spent on hiring more police officers, installing better lighting in high-crime areas, providing education aimed at preventing crime and doing other things to make sure crimes do not happen.”

Miriam Shehane, executive director of Montgomery-based Victims of Crime and Leniency, disagrees.

“I don’t care how much it costs to execute someone, we need the death penalty,” she said. “The death penalty opponents want to argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment. My daughter was abducted, then raped for hours and shot repeatedly. Was that not cruel and unusual punishment? The punishment needs to fit the crimes and for some murders, the death penalty is the only appropriate punishment.”

Shehane’s daughter Quenette was kidnapped and killed in Birmingham in 1976.

Three men were convicted of her murder. One was executed, another was sentenced to life in prison without parole and the other sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Lauderdale Circuit Court Judge Mike Jones said he never considers the potential cost of incarceration and future legal expenses when deciding if a defendant convicted of capital murder should be sentenced to death. He said that decision is based on the jury’s recommendation and the circumstances of the homicide.


When a defendant is convicted of capital murder in Alabama, the jury then hears additional evidence before recommending the death penalty or life in prison without parole as punishment. The judge is not obligated to follow the recommendation when imposing the punishment.

“We don’t need to put someone to death because it’s cheaper than keeping them in prison for the rest of their life,” she said. “At the same time, we shouldn’t not put someone to death because it might be more expensive than keeping them in prison. You don’t make a life or death decision based on economics.”

Jones has imposed the death penalty twice.

He sentenced David Dewayne Riley Jr. to death in 2007 for the 2005 shooting death of Florence package store clerk Scott Michael Kirtley. He sentenced Riley, 27, to death again in 2011 after the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his first conviction on a technicality. The jury at both trials recommended that Riley receive the death sentence for the execution-style shooting.

Jones said the possible cost of sending Riley to death row never crossed his mind before carrying out the recommendation of the juries.

“The Alabama Legislature may someday decide we can no longer afford to send people to death row,” Jones said. “That’s a decision they would have to make and until they do, I am going to continue to carry out the recommendations of juries who say someone deserves the death penalty when the circumstances of a murder warrant sending a defendant to death row.”

Political battle

Shehane said the Legislature will face a tough battle from her organization and other capital punishment proponents if it ever attempts to abolish the death penalty in Alabama as a way to save money.

Deiter said with the cost of defending death sentences in the appeals process and even the expense of purchasing the drugs used in executions increasing, some states might have to replace capital punishment with a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the hope of parole as a way to punish defendants convicted of the most brutal homicides.

“All states with the death penalty (will have) to decide if it is worth the expense when they are having to cut back in so many other areas, including courts and police,” Deiter said.

For Alabama, Shehane said, the money spent sending defendants convicted of capital murder to death row and carrying out their execution is worth the expense.


Top 10 states for number of inmates on death row as of Jan. 1:

  • California 703
  • Florida 402
  • Texas 312
  • Pennsylvania 211
  • Alabama 202
  • North Carolina 166
  • Ohio 151
  • Arizona 153
  • Georgia 99
  • Louisiana 89

Source: Death Penalty Information Center


Daily inmate maintenance costs in Alabama

  • 2000 $25.47
  • 2002 $26.07
  • 2004 $27,92
  • 2006 $36.67
  • 2008 $41.47
  • 2010 $42.30

Source: Alabama Department of Corrections


Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center


State Total 2011 2012
Texas 482 14 5
Virginia 109 1 0
Oklahoma 99 2 3
Florida 73 2 2
Missouri 68 1 0
Alabama 55 6 0
Georgia 52 4 0
Ohio 47 5 1
North Carolina 43 0 0
South Carolina 43 1 0

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

Nevada Department of Corrections lacks plan for executions due to prison closure, drug shortage

may 10, 2012 source :

4 months after shutting down Nevada State Prison in Carson City, site of the state’s only death chamber, officials have no solid plan for carrying out executions and no access to a lethal injection drug.
As Nevada’s death row inmates continue to appeal their convictions and sentences, the Nevada Department of Corrections has continued to lose its ability to hold an execution.
Corrections officials shut down the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, site of the state’s only death chamber, early this year, and they have no solid plan in place for transporting and holding an inmate who is about to be executed, the Reno Gazette-Journal found.
In addition, 1 of the drugs used during a lethal injection has not been available for more than a year, and the state’s execution protocol has not been updated to address the drug shortage, the Gazette-Journal found.
The department plans to submit a bill draft request to the Legislature next year asking for $385,000 to build a new execution chamber at the Ely State Prison, said Steve Suwe, a department spokesman.
The Nevada Attorney General’s office sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder early in 2011 seeking help to deal with the lethal injection drug shortage, spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez said. But no resolution has been found.
“Should any executions be scheduled, we will do the best to help the Department of Corrections have the drugs necessary to carry out a lawful execution order,” Lopez said.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the lack of a solid plan could be problematic, especially if an inmate were to suddenly stop the appeals process and ask to be killed. Eleven of the 12 inmates executed in Nevada since 1976 “volunteered” to be executed.
“When it comes time, they just can’t say, ‘Trust us,’” Dieter said of corrections officials. “They have to have a very specific protocol. Either a state or federal court would want them to produce that information. They’ll want to make sure this isn’t done in a slipshod way.”
Source: Reno Gazette-Journal, May 10, 2012

Thomas Kemp Execution sparks Debate Over Single-Drug Lethal Injection

april 26, source :

A Kentucky judge ordered state officials to consider using a single drug to carry out executions instead of a series of three drugs used by many states where the death penalty is legal.

The judge’s ruling on Wednesday was handed down on the same day that a controversy erupted over the execution of a man in Arizona using a single drug.

Thomas Kemp was put to death in Arizona on Wednesday using the single drug pentobarbital. His lawyer Tim Gabrielsen, who witnessed the execution, said after Kemp had been put to death that the inmate began to “shake violently” after the drug was injected.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Gabrielsen said he was concerned that his client might have suffered cruel and unusual pain before he died. A corrections official who also witnessed the execution disputed Gabrielsen’s account.

A handful of the 33 states where capital punishment is legal use a single drug. In addition to Arizona, they are South Dakota, Idaho, Ohio and Washington.

In a ruling issued on Wednesday in Frankfort, Kentucky, Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd gave state officials 90 days to decide whether to adopt rules for carrying out executions with a single drug. Without such action, Shepherd said he would move toward a trial on a lawsuit against the state of Kentucky brought by six inmates on death row.

The judge also gave the state the same period to adopt regulations to guard against executing mentally ill or insane prisoners. The inmates argued that the three-drug execution method violates their Eighth Amendment constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

In the three-drug series, pentobarbital or another sedative is administered to put the inmate to sleep before two other drugs are given to paralyze the person and stop the heart.

Death row inmates in several states have challenged this procedure in courts, arguing that if the sedative is not administered properly, the inmate could be subject to cruel and unusual pain before death when the other drugs are injected.

Inmates have argued it would be more humane to inject a massive dose of the sedative to kill the inmate and eliminate the other drugs.

Judge Shepherd said a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the three-drug method was partly based on the fact that no states were then using a single-drug method and there were no studies that showed it would be an equally effective method.

“Thus, the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the three-drug protocol was contingent on the absence of any proven alternative method of lethal injection,” Shepherd wrote in his ruling.

But the judge said since then, the five states have approved using a single barbiturate-only procedure and that at least 18 people have been executed in that manner.

The Kentucky ruling, along with actions by a handful of states to switch to single-drug executions, is “giving momentum to the argument that this is a more humane, safer protocol,” said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

Dieter said a consensus could be building toward a one-drug method as opposed to the three-drug protocol.

A spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said on Thursday he would not comment on the ruling until it is reviewed by state officials including the Department of Corrections. Governor Steve Beshear also noted the ruling was under review but declined further comment.

Kentucky last carried out an execution in 2008. The state has executed only three people since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976.

Charles M. Harris: Why Florida should abolish the death penalty

april 18 2012 source :

Wake up, Florida. We have been sold a pig in the poke. If what we got is not totally defective, it is redundant and far less satisfactory than a comparable product which is efficient and cost effective.

I am, of course, talking about the death penalty and why it should be abolished.

It should be acknowledged that we have two death sentences in Florida; death by execution and death by prison. Both accomplish the same purpose: the condemned will never leave prison alive. Further, it is far from certain which sentence will be carried out first.

This article is in opposition is to the death by execution alternative and is based on the law as it now is and will continue to be, and not on the law as it was in some bygone era when a death sentence was imposed within a reasonable time following the conviction. This article does not urge that we end the death penalty on either moral or religious grounds. Others can better speak to that. And although it is of great concern, and should concern all Floridians, this article does not urge the end the death penalty based on the fact that innocent people may be executed under out present system(we have had more people exonerated and released from our death row than any other state, 25.) That issue is beyond the scope of this article.

My opposition is based on more practical grounds: First, the death penalty is not needed since the legislature adopted the life in prison without parole alternative. This was a wise action taken by the legislature but it has rendered death by execution redundant and the amount we spend on it wasted. Second, death by execution is excessively expensive. Most people who support the death penalty believe it is more cost effective than life in prison. Perhaps at one time, when executions were swift and sure, this may have been the case. It is not now. Most people knowledgeable about the subject will agree that the delay now built into the system, more trial preparation, much longer time to get to trial, much longer jury selections and trials, much more complicated and far more frequent appeals, and continuous motions, have increased the cost of capital punishment so that it is now many times the cost of keeping a prisoner in prison for life.

One study have shown that it costs Florida $51 million per year more to support the death penalty than the costs of keeping our murderers in prison for life (Death Penalty Information Center). For example, it costs the state more than $10 million annually to fund the Capital Collateral lawyers who represent those who have been sentenced to death only after the sentence is entered, and this expense must be paid whether or not here is an execution.

The high cost of executions in California caused one of the sponsors who brought about reintroduction of the death penalty there and who is now leading the effort to end it to say: “Close your eyes for a moment. If there was a state program that was costing $185 million a year and only gave the money to lawyers and criminals, what would you do with it?” (New York Times, April 7, 2012).

Quite obviously, a large amount of the money spent on capital punishment goes for legal expenses. That should not be criticized. Proper legal representation of the accused, particularly those sentenced to death, is an essential element of due process. The only way to end the enormous expense is to end the unnecessary reason for it. The $51 million listed as the extra expense for the death penalty is the annual cost of retaining the death penalty apparatus whether or not we have any executions. If it costs that much just to be able to execute someone, what does each execution cost us? The Miami Herald published an article in 1988 stating that it cost $3.2 million to execute a condemned person but only $750,000 to house a prisoner in prison for life. Both of these figures, of course, have increased over the past twenty plus years as indicated by the study mentioned above.

We have averaged two executions per year over the past decade. If we take the $51 million we spend annually merely to be in a position to execute someone and divide it by the two executions we normally have each year, the cost would be about $25 million each.

What do we get for our money? If the death penalty is not a deterrent, and it is not, and if the death penalty does not make us safer, and it does not, then it is only high-cost revenge. There are those who look at Ted Bundy, DannyRolling and Aileen Wuornus and say that at least they won’t kill again. It is unlikely that they would have killed again in any event while confined forever to their 12-by-7 foot cell, but more importantly to the issue of the death penalty being a deterrent is the fact that although Florida has had the death penalty for many generations, these serial killers murdered almost a score of our citizens before they were caught. They were not deterred by the threat of death.

Law enforcement officers, or at least the chiefs of police, seems to realize the futility of the death penalty or at least believe that the money spent on it can be better spent. A recent survey of police chiefs found that a lack of resources and drug/alcohol abuse tied for what most interferes with effective law enforcement. Of the nine categories, insufficient use of the death penalty was a distant last.

Why would anyone ignore the death penalty while considering killing someone? The answer is that the potential killer, for good reason, does not think the death penalty will apply to him. As Justice Brennan said in his Furman concurring opinion: “Proponents of this argument (that the death penalty is a deterrent) necessarily admit that its validity depends upon the existence of a system in which the punishment of death is inevitably and swiftly imposed. Our system, of course, satisfies neither condition. A rational person contemplating a murder…is confronted, not with the certainty of a speedy death, but with the slightest possibility that he will be executed in the distant future.”

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US – Lethal Injection As the Death Penalty’s Last Stand

april 16,2012 source : David A. Love *Witness to innocence*

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the death penalty in America? All of it might come down to a basic issue of supply.

So, what do you do if you are a hangman who runs out of rope? To put it in more conventional terms, suppose you are a state that executes people by lethal injection, but you’re running out of the lethal chemicals used to put people down like animals.

Perhaps you’d do what some states have done and buy your chemicals on the black market, so to speak.

In March, Judge Richard J. Leon, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., issued an order andopinion banning the importation of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic and the first of a three-chemical cocktail administered to a condemned inmate. Once the inmate is unconscious, he or she is injected with pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the person, and potassium chloride, which causes death through cardiac arrest.

According to the judge, it was disappointing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broke the law by allowing shipments of the drug from foreign countries, unapproved for the purpose of executions. Without FDA approval, according to the judge, the sodium thiopental would fail to put the inmate to sleep, causing “conscious suffocation, pain, and cardiac arrest.”

Judge Leon ordered the FDA to notify state corrections departments that they must surrender the drug to the FDA.

The drug is only available overseas, as the only U.S. manufacturer recently ceased production last year amid controversy over its use. Moreover, the European Union recently announcedrestrictions on export of the drug. But with sodium thiopental unavailable, the most logical replacement is pentobarbital. This replacement drug, which is a more expensive alternative, has been used by 12 states to put 47 people to death since 2010, according to the Death Penalty information Center, and is widely used to put down animals. In addition, the chemical is used to treat insomnia and as a seizure treatment for epilepsy.

Manufacturers of pentobarbital, including Danish manufacturer Lundbeck, Inc., have made it known to various states that they do not want the drug used for executions. States such as Arizona, Georgia and Texas apparently have stockpiled pentobarbital and say they have enough supply for this year’s executions.

Texas apparently bought $50,000 worth last year and wants to block information on its stockpile, and the state has accused the anti-death penalty group Reprieve of “‘intimidation and commercial harassment’ of manufacturers of medical drugs used in lethal injections.” Arizonahas had its lethal injection protocols challenged, as inmates have sued the state for giving the state’s corrections director too much discretion. Meanwhile, Ohio just resumed executions after a federally-imposed six-month moratorium because prison officials were not following proper procedures. And Alabama stayed an execution in March after the condemned inmate argued that Pentobarbital does not completely sedate and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

With both domestic and international public pressure on the purveyors of death, it seems they’re feeling the heat, as well they should. Willing executioners are in short supply, and former executioners have seen enough to know they want no part of it. Further, they have likely killed innocent people. Many doctors are unwilling to break their Hippocratic oath to do no harm, or are forbidden to do so.

Used to extinguish 1,100 lives in 35 states — some of them most certainly innocent — lethal injection is the prominent form of capital punishment in the U.S. Marketed as the clean, humane form of capital punishment, lethal injection was billed as the friendly, painless type of execution. But we should ask, how harmless can you really make a lynching?

If lethal injection falls out of favor, either through a dwindling supply of the poisonous cocktail of death, lack of public support or a court ruling, what do the states do after that? Do they return to the hangman’s noose? That seems unlikely, reminds us too much of the strange fruit hanging from the trees that Billie Holiday used to sing about.

What about the electric chair, which has been known to cook people alive? Or the gas chamber, like the Nazis used to do?

Then there’s the firing squad. Better yet, how about stoning, or drawing and quartering, which is really old school?

Here’s a better idea. Just get rid of the death penalty for good. America is the only Western nation that executed people last year. And the U.S. is in the top five of nations that execute, putting us in league with China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen. We’ll never get it right with the death penalty because executions are so wrong.

No matter how the state kills a person, you can’t wipe the blood from your hands.

David A. Love is the Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, a national nonprofit organization that empowers exonerated death row prisoners and their family members to become effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty.