Arizona Ignores Trial Judge, Kills Prisoner

The death penalty in this case is not appropriate and never has been.”

That’s what former judge Cheryl Hendrix told Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency in support of Jeffrey Landrigan’s effort to have his death sentence commuted.  What’s important about judge Hendrix is that she is the one who sentenced him to death.  New information that Landrigan’s lawyer failed to present at the trial convinced her that the death sentence she issued had been wrong.  

Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, had already ruled that this new information would NOT have made a difference.  That turned out to be flat wrong, but an erroneous Supreme Court ruling that still trumps everything else. The Arizona Board split 2-2 vote, but that, and Governor Jan Brewer, was enough to keep the execution process rolling. 

Landrigan’s attorneys also attempted to shine a light on the secretive practices of Arizona’s execution team (which now apparently includes an un-named British pharmaceutical company).  Had they been successful, this would have been a great public service.  Why should a public agency with the power to kill people be allowed to operate in the dark?

But that effort was not successful, thanks to another 5-4 US Supreme Court vote.  The non-FDA approved drugs acquired from Great Britain appeared to work as the executioners wanted, and, late last night, Arizona carried out a death sentence that “is not appropriate and never has been.

Arizona: Execution Drugs Came From Great Britain

Arizona’s Attorney General Terry Goddard has reportedly confirmed that his state’s stash of non-FDA approved sodium thiopental came from Great Britain.  The state continues to try to kill Jeffrey Landrigan with this drug, and continues to try to keep details of their supplier a secret, using a law that shields the Arizona’s execution team from public scrutiny.  So an as yet unnamed British pharmaceutical company is now a member of Arizona’s execution team. 

As our allies in Europe are dragged into this sordid execution mess, Arizona soldiers on with its attempt to carry out this execution (in defiance of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights).  The full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court are likely to weigh in later today.

But whatever the outcome, two important points are worth mentioning.  First, many people are now ashamed to be associated with the death penalty, and that includes those charged with carrying it out.  Though ostensibly for the purpose of protecting execution team members from harassment by death penalty opponents (who rarely do anything more than deliver petitions and sternly worded letters), the real purpose of the Arizona law (and similar laws in others states, and an even more extreme effort in Texas), is to drive capital punishment into the shadows.  The death penalty is not as popular as it used to be, because people are realizing that it involves things like states acquiring non-approved pharmaceuticals in shady and secretive ways and then using those drugs to kill people.  Of course such efforts to hide these ugly realities only draw more attention to them.

It also bears mentioning that the judge who passed the death sentence on Jeffrey Landrigan now says she was wrong.  When the US Supreme Court rejected Landrigan’s bid for a hearing on his lawyer’s failure to present important mitigating evidence, Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, asserted that the mitigating evidence would have made no difference.  The judge who was actually there has said the exact opposite – that the mitigating evidence would have made all the difference. 

Even our highest courts don’t always get things right, especially when they try to predict the future.  All supporters of fairness in our justice system, whether opposing capital punishment or not, should be disturbed by the slipshod way this case has been handled, and by the ongoing collateral damage our death penalty continues to do.

Sri Lanka and the keeping of promises

The U.N. said today (April 29) that two aerial bombardments were reported in the conflict zone in northeastern Sri Lanka on April 28.  This follows the Sri Lankan government’s statement last Monday that the security forces had been instructed to end the use of combat aircraft and aerial weapons, in their ongoing offensive against the opposition Tamil Tigers.  Is the Sri Lankan government keeping to its promise?  The Tigers are now confined to a small strip of coastal land, about 5 square miles, in northeastern Sri Lanka.  With the Tigers are an estimated 50,000 civilians, who’ve been prevented by the Tigers from leaving the area.

For their part, the Tigers had declared a unilateral ceasefire last Sunday.  The Sri Lankan government said today that the Tigers’ ceasefire was a bluff as the Tigers had reportedly carried out seven suicide attacks against government troops in the prior 24 hours.  Are the Tigers keeping to their ceasefire promise?

The foreign ministers of both Great Britain and France visited Sri Lanka today and tried to get the Sri Lankan government to halt its offensive against the Tigers and allow humanitarian aid into the conflict area.  The ministers later reported that they had failed to get the Sri Lankan government to make this commitment.  The U.N appealed again today for a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the trapped civilians to leave the war zone and to allow aid into the zone.  The Sri Lankan government has not promised to cease fighting, and the Tigers have not promised to let the civilians leave if the government did call a temporary halt.

In response to the over 100,000 civilians who’ve fled the war zone over the past 10 days, the U.N. and various international donors have pledged millions of dollars in emergency assistance in recent days.

There are promises that need to be made by each side in Sri Lanka’s conflict and promises that, having been made, need to be kept.  The international community should hold both sides to account and should be sure to honor its own pledges of assistance to the displaced civilians.