Ignoring The Public To Speed Up Executions

Gov. Rick Scott (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images).

Gov. Rick Scott (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images).

On Friday late afternoon, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the “Timely Justice Act,” a bill designed to speed up executions in a state that is responsible for more known wrongful convictions in death penalty cases than any other. As a result, there are “at least 13 inmates immediately eligible for death warrants.”

Governor Scott signed the bill after requesting to hear from the public, who responded by overwhelmingly urging him to veto it. As the News Service of Florida reported:

“As of Thursday, his office had received 447 phone calls, with 438 opposed to the bill; 14 letters, with 13 opposed; and 14,571 emails, with 14,565 opposed.”

Although Governor Scott, in signing the bill into law, ignored this public response, he does seem to have been impacted by it. He is now claiming that the “Timely Justice Act” is not meant to “fast track” executions, a claim seemingly disputed by the bill’s key sponsor, who said on Twitter that “Several on death row need to start picking out their last meals.”

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Executing Women In the USA

Teresa Lewis

Teresa Lewis, despite her low IQ and dependency disorder, was executed as the mastermind of a murder for hire. She was the last woman  put to death since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States.

Very few, or at least relatively few, women have been executed in the United States.  Kimberly McCarthy would have been the 13th woman put to death since reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976, had her execution not been delayed at the last minute to look into the question of improper jury selection at her trial. An African American woman, McCarthy was sentenced to die by a Dallas, TX jury that was predominantly (11-1) white.

So as it stand now, out of 1,321 executions in the U.S. only 12 (less than 1%) have been women. Interestingly, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, while women are responsible for roughly 10% of murders, they receive only 2.1% of death sentences and make up only 1.8% of current death row residents, but have received over 4% of clemencies granted. Perhaps this represents yet another way the death penalty is disproportionately applied.

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One Governor, 250 Executions: 8 Rick Perry Lowlights

Rick Perry

Rick Perry © Scott Olson/Getty Images

This month, the number of executions under Texas Governor Rick Perry is set to hit 250 — more than twice as many as in any other state since the U.S. death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Anthony Haynes and Bobby Hines would be the 249th and 250th Texas prisoners put to death under Gov. Perry, and are set to be executed October 18 and 31 respectively.

250 is a lot of executions. But even a small sample of the state killings under Rick Perry highlights (or lowlights) the depth and variety of serious problems with capital punishment in Texas. The large number of executions merely illustrates how little Texas leaders care about these problems.

Here are just eight of the more egregious, but also representative, examples from Rick Perry’s death penalty legacy.

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10 Reasons Death Penalty Abolition is Coming

Today is the 10th World Day Against the Death Penalty, an annual October 10 event created by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty of which Amnesty International is a founding member. Since that first World Day on Oct. 10, 2003, executions are on the wane both here in the U.S. and around the world.

Here are 10 reasons to celebrate 10 years of progress this World Day:

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FDA Slammed For Allowing Illegal Execution Drugs

Death chamber in Huntsville, Texas

The death chamber in Huntsville, Texas. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

I’ve written before about how the death penalty degrades everything it touches, and in the words of Thomas Paine,  leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.  Doctors and other medical professionals complicit in the act of execution violate the Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” Drug companies are unwillingly dragged into the business of killing, rather than healing. And now, a recent court ruling exposes how the the FDA, whose stated mission is to keep us safe from bad food and drugs, has abandoned its mandate in order to facilitate state executions.

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The Death Penalty In 2011: Three Things You Should Know

noose death penaltyEvery year around this time, Amnesty International releases its annual survey of capital punishment worldwide.

As in previous years, the report – Death Sentences and Execution 2011 – shows that support for executions continued to diminish, and that the U.S. is in the wrong company but moving in the right direction. There are three main takeaways from this years report.

1. Globally, the use of the death penalty remained in decline.  At the end of 2011 there were 140 countries considered abolitionist in law or practice (it’s now 141 with the addition of Mongolia), while only 20 countries were known to have put prisoners to death.  Only in the tumultuous Middle East was there an increase in executions.

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Doctors Demand Restrictions On Another Execution Drug

PANCURONIUM_BROMIDE lethal injection drug death penaltyOver the past year numerous pharmaceutical companies have tried to distance themselves from lethal injections (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes under pressure).  Until now, all these efforts involved the use of an anesthetic, the first drug in 3-drug execution protocols, or the only drug in one-drug protocols.  First Hospira, then Novartis, Lundbeck, Kayem and Naari have all objected to the use of their anesthetic products in U.S. executions.

Now, Hospira is under fire for pancuronium bromide, which is the second drug in all 3-drug execution protocols in the U.S.  Hospira is the sole provider of this drug for executions; it’s a muscle-relaxant that in executions is used to induce paralysis.  Paralysis during executions makes the condemned look like he’s peacefully falling asleep even if he’s in excruciating pain.  This makes the witnesses to the execution feel better.  Ironically, this masking of possible pain is why pancuronium bromide is widely banned in the euthanizing of animals.

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Death Penalty Downward Spiral Continues

Exonerated Gary Drinkard death penalty

Gary Drinkard was on death row in Alabama for 6 years before he was exonerated. © Scott Langley

As we approach the end of another year, the time for annual reports is at hand.  For the death penalty, this means the yearly report from the Death Penalty Information Center, as well as the year-end report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.   Both reports show that in 2011 the downward trends we have been observing for several years in the United States continued or even accelerated.

Texas carried out its lowest number of executions (13) since 1996.  Nationwide, the 43 executions carried out represented about half the number that were put to death in the year 2000, and U.S. death sentences dropped well below 100 for the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

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The Shady World Of Execution Drug Trafficking

Once upon a time, Chris Harris was a broker for Kayem Pharma, a small India-based pharmaceutical company that sold sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that, in addition to its legitimate health care uses, has been used to kill over 1,000 prisoners in the U.S.  Late last year, he brokered a sale of sodium thiopental to the states of Nebraska and South Dakota, states that have collectively carried out exactly one execution this century.  Nebraska paid just over $2,000 for enough of the drug (500 grams) for 166 executions (there are 12 people on Nebraska’s death row), while pledging it would not be reselling the drug to other states.

Why so much?  That is not clear, but eventually the DEA ruled that it had all been imported illegally anyway and could not be used.  Kayem, meanwhile, expressed dismay that their drug would be used for executions, saying that it violated their “ethos of Hinduism”.   Angry emails between company headquarters and its U.S. agents, with epithets like “drug peddlers” and “piece of sh*t thief”, flew back and forth.  Chris Harris was fired for “indulging in activities detrimental to Company interest.”

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Rick Perry By The Numbers

Rick Perry

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Amnesty International does not comment or take sides on elections.  But everyone knows that Rick Perry, Texas Governor for over a decade, is now running for President.  And everyone knows that during his tenure as Texas Governor, he has presided over a lot of executions. The total now sits at 234 (40% of all US executions carried out since Perry became Governor in December 2000).

Many folks also know that at least one of those, Cameron Todd Willingham, was probably innocent, and that evidence of his innocence was ignored by Governor Perry in the days and hours before Willingham was put to death.  And that an investigation into the dubious forensics that led to Willingham’s conviction was sidetracked when Perry suddenly put Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley in charge (Bradley is now being accused of withholding evidence of innocence in a case in his home county).

But there have been other cases of possible innocence, and, as currently scheduled, Perry’s 240th execution would be of Henry Skinner, a man whose innocence claim the Lone Star State is refusing to examine.

BY THE NUMBERS

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