Failure to execute

Drug shortage needlessly mires lethal injections in controversy

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The 3,000 U.S. prisoners on death row used many methods to kill, torture or maim their victims.

Yet when their day of reckoning comes, final justice likely will come in the same form it has for the past 30 years – a needle prick followed by a sedation from which they will not wake.

So it should strike Americans as odd that the relatively humane and seemingly straightforward process used to carry out their execution – lethal injection – has become so needlessly controversial and administratively unwieldy that some states are considering bringing back execution methods such as firing squads, electrocutions and gas chambers.

The hubris starts with the scarcity of the drugs used in the lethal injection process. Sodium thiopental, a barbiturate anesthetic used to render the condemned unconscious in the traditional “three-drug protocol,” is no longer made in the U.S., and its European manufacturers have refused its export to America for capital punishment.

As a result, many states switched to a “one-drug protocol” in which the condemned are given lethal levels of another barbiturate anesthetic, pentobarbital. But its European manufacturer, too, banned export to the U.S. after learning it was being used in executions.

This has led states – most recently Georgia and Missouri – to seek alternative sources of pentobarbital through compounding pharmacies whose identities are being controversially kept secret to shield them from harassment. Other states are switching to pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant previously used as a component in a three-drug protocol.

Regardless, the drug deviations have provided attorneys for the condemned with a convenient loophole to challenge whether the new protocols carry side effects that could be considered cruel and unusual.

The number of U.S. executions has declined in recent years – from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 39 last year, a sign of the complications created by drug scarcity.

In Georgia, the state high court is determining whether death row inmate Warren Hill’s attorneys will be granted a review of the pentobarbital the state plans to use in his lethal injection. The execution of Hill, convicted for murdering a fellow inmate while serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend, was granted a stay last year by a Fulton County Superior Court judge over questions about the drug’s “safety.”

Safety? Are we practicing medicine, or executing inmates?

Death penalty opponents, who ultimately want a moratorium on all lethal injections, are using the recent executions of Dennis McGuire in Ohio and Michael Lee Wilson in Oklahoma as examples where new drug combinations may have resulted in inhumane punishment.

McGuire, 53, convicted of raping and killing a pregnant newlywed in 1989, took 26 minutes to die and gasped repeatedly during his procedure. The final words of Wilson, 38, convicted of beating a convenience store clerk to death with a baseball bat, were: “I feel my whole body burning.”

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S.-sourced painkillers, sedatives and paralyzing agents that can kill. It shouldn’t be so difficult for states to find them and use them.

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deestafford 02/24/14 - 12:55 am
The bleeding hearts are more concerned about the...

The bleeding hearts are more concerned about the scumbag killer that the brutalized victim whose torture and last minutes are sometimes to graphic to even be reported. No, we can't let the pond scum feel any pain.

It's very simple---either hang 'em or shoot 'em via firing squad.

Also, we need to set a limit of five years as the maximum time between the guilty verdict and the execution. These delays are tortuous for the victims families.

Some say that capital punishment is not a deterrent. It is not suppose to be a deterrent. It is suppose to be a punishment for a crime committed. Bleeding hearts are always on the side of the criminal rather than the victim. The scum sits on death row for decades laughing at them and the system.

carcraft 02/24/14 - 04:57 am
The problem is the statutes

The problem is the statutes prescribing the death penalty list the drug th be used. Instead the law should read, the person to be executed will be administered 8 x the LD 50 of an IV anesthetic capable of rendering a person unconscious. LD 50 is the leathal dose that renders 50% of people dead. BIS sensor technology will be applied to insure the individual is unconscious prior to giving the muscle relaxant that insures paralysis and potassium chloride.

jimmymac 02/24/14 - 07:01 am

The legal system is broken. Liberal lawyers and judges have infiltrated the system making a joke out of it. They delay sentencing over and over racking up huge fees paid by taxpayers and delay justice for the victims and their families for years even decades. No one wants to see and innocent person wrongly convicted but what's going on now is beyond the pale. Vote out the liberal bleeding hearts sitting on the bench and get some real justice to restore integrity to our legal system.

avidreader 02/24/14 - 07:21 am
A Plan!

I am not a proponent of execution; however, I will continue to support the Supreme Court's decision.

Fifteen years on death row is quite excessive. Why not mandate that each state have a full-time review panel (of legal experts) that examines trial procedures and determines if the conviction is just and PERFECT. If so, pass the results on to an additional review panel comprised of delegates selected by the Supreme Court. If both panels deem the results to be just and fair, and PERFECT, then execute the felon within twelve months of the conviction.

Fifteen years on death row seems to be cruel and unusual punishment. Let's hasten the process without fanfare and simply put the felon down peacefully and then forget he (she) ever existed.

It's cheaper to keep a convict in prison for the rest of his life than to pay for fifteen-years worth of legal bills. And in my opinion, life in prison is a much harsher penalty than a peaceful death.

seenitB4 02/24/14 - 08:56 am
Oh brother

Firing squads or hanging & stop with the drama about this...

teaparty 02/24/14 - 09:41 am
"The final words of Wilson,

"The final words of Wilson, 38, convicted of beating a convenience store clerk to death with a baseball bat, were: “I feel my whole body burning.”
good you piece of trash!!

Dixieman 02/26/14 - 07:44 am
Dixieman's 10-point death penalty reform plan

1. Those facing the death penalty shall be executed in the same manner they killed their victims. How can they complain about that?
2. Death penalty opponent lawyers concede that they deliberately wait until the last minute to file appeal after appeal after appeal in an effort to throw a monkey wrench into the works. Then they have the chutzpah to whine that the long time on death row is cruel and unusual. Any lawyer making the latter argument or deliberately seeking multiple delays shall be imprisoned until his or her client is executed.
3. Prison system will offer REALLY GOOD last meals -- Boeuf Wellington, caviar, lobster, etc. with the finest brandy, champagne, etc. and a good cigar afterward. No more of this Big Mac/fried chicken/apple pie stuff. High-class menu should encourage more death row inmates to waive their final appeal so they can get good eats.
4. Also conjugal visits the night before if they waive their final appeal. (Frederick's of Hollywood might agree to sponsor these in return for wearing their stuff. Commercial breaks will be watched by many!).
5. No spouse for #4 above? Volunteers will be sought from the audiences on "Maury" which will surely provide many eager volunteers who have lived their whole lives to date with no ambition except to be on reality TV.
6. Televise all executions. We had public hangings until about 200 years ago. A great deterrent to all the criminal wannabes out there!
7. With Maury doing the interviews and commentary on #4 and #6 above. You know he will immediately and enthusiastically volunteer.
8. There is no point 8.
9. After the first 13 appeals, all further appeals will be decided by spinning a roulette wheel. Red - you win. Black, 0 or 00 - you die. Commercial sponsor: Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
10. Not more that five whining letters to the editor or editorials about how cruel the death penalty is shall be published in any calendar month.
Well, it wouldn't be any worse than the present system, would it?

Marinerman1 02/24/14 - 03:19 pm
I Agree !!

I have posted this before -- did the murderer commit a painless and humane execution of the victim?? NO !! So why should I give a rat's butt, whether their execution is painless and humane? Of course, the execution should be swift, to allow closure for the victim's family. Unfortunately, we seem to allow some Capital Offense plea bargaining to occur. Kay Parson's children will never have closure, because the murderers plea bargained themselves to life without parole. Both should be on the business end of a needle. I'm in total agreement with 'carcraft'. But, if the condemned says, "my body is on fire", tough toenails -- you are still going out in a more humane manner than your victim -- talk to the hand...

corgimom 02/24/14 - 06:12 pm
All they have to do is

All they have to do is administer a big jolt of potassium. That'll do the trick, it'll stop the heart.

They don't need the pentobarbital.

Maybe they should've thought about lethal injection before they committed their crimes that got them to the death chamber in the first place.

corgimom 02/24/14 - 06:13 pm
The final words of Wilson,

The final words of Wilson, 38, convicted of beating a convenience store clerk to death with a baseball bat, were: “I feel my whole body burning.”

That's because he was on his way to Hell.

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