Time to permanently stop executions by lethal injection

Monday, February 24, 2014

Good morning:

The death penalty is back in the news today as Missouri gets ready to execute Michael Taylor by lethal injection on Wednesday for the rape and stabbing-death of 15-year-old Ann Harrison in 1989.

The issue is not a claim of innocence because Taylor has admitted to kidnapping her from a school bus-stop in Kansas City and committing the crimes with Roderick Nunley, who also is on death row.

The issue is about the manner of execution. Taylor’s lawyers claim that the State of Missouri plans to execute him by lethal injection using a secret mix of chemicals in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment made applicable to the states by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

This is a serious claim. For example, he barely avoided execution in 2006, when a court issued an order staying his execution after the doctor who carried out the executions by lethal injection admitted that he had used improper dosages.

The problem today is that the states can no longer use the three-drug cocktail approved for executions by a plurality of the United States Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees, 128 S.Ct. 1520, 1526-1527, 1537 (2008).

A total of 36 States have now adopted lethal injection as the exclusive or primary means of implementing the death penalty, making it by far the most prevalent method of execution in the United States. It is also the method used by the Federal Government. See 18 U.S.C. § 3591 et seq. (2000 ed. and Supp. V); App. to Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 1a-6a (lethal injection protocol used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons).

Of these 36 States, at least 30 (including Kentucky) use the same combination of three drugs in their lethal injection protocols. See Workman v. Bredesen, 486 F.3d 896, 902 (C.A.6 2007). The first drug, sodium thiopental (also known as Pentathol), is a fast-acting barbiturate sedative that induces a deep, comalike unconsciousness when given in the amounts used for lethal injection. App. 762-763, 631-632. The second drug, pancuronium bromide (also known as Pavulon), is a paralytic agent that inhibits all muscular-skeletal movements and, by paralyzing the diaphragm, stops respiration. Id., at 763. Potassium chloride, the third drug, interferes with the electrical signals that stimulate the contractions of the heart, inducing cardiac arrest. Ibid. The proper administration of the first drug ensures that the prisoner does not experience any pain associated with the paralysis and cardiac arrest caused by the second and third drugs. Id., at 493-494, 541, 558-559.


A stay of execution may not be granted on grounds such as those asserted here unless the condemned prisoner establishes that the State’s lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain. He must show that the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives. A State with a lethal injection protocol substantially similar to the protocol we uphold today would not create a risk that meets this standard.

Meanwhile, on January 21, 2011, Hospira (the only pharmaceutical company that manufactures sodium thiopental, which is also known as Pentothal) announced that it would no longer produce it.

The company issued the following explanation for its decision:

Hospira had intended to produce Pentothal at its Italian plant. In the last month, we’ve had ongoing dialogue with the Italian authorities concerning the use of Pentothal in capital punishment procedures in the United States – a use Hospira has never condoned. Italy’s intent is that we control the product all the way to the ultimate end user to prevent use in capital punishment. These discussions and internal deliberation, as well as conversations with wholesalers – the primary distributors of the product to customers – led us to believe we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures.

The State of Ohio executed Dennis McGuire on January 16th using midazolam and hydromorphone that caused him to writhe in pain for 25 minutes before he died prompting Ohio Governor John Kasich to order an 8-month stay of execution for Gregory Lott in order to allow the Department of Corrections to review the state’s lethal injection procedure.

That was a good idea, given what happened, since the method of execution likely would not have satisfied the SCOTUS test.

Figuratively speaking, the State of Missouri “hit the streets” to find a drug to kill people.

The The Death Penalty Information Center reports,

In Missouri, the Director of the Department of Corrections testified [before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability] that the state obtains its lethal injection drugs by sending a correctional official to another state with $11,000 in cash to pay a compounding pharmacy called The Apothecary Shoppe. The officer then hand delivers the drug to the department. At a legislative hearing on February 10, George Lombardi of the DOC said pentobarbital was obtained in Oklahoma by paying in cash in order to maintain the anonymity of the pharmacy. Also testifying was Jacob Luby, an attorney with the Death Penalty Litigation Center. Luby raised concerns that the drug would not be stored at the proper temperature in transport: “First, let’s address the fact that this drug is supposed to be kept frozen and not at room temperature,” Luby said. “We’ve got someone driving a drug across state lines after purchasing it in cash and delivering it to the department and until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know who was selling us the drug.” Bills have been proposed in Missouri to require execution protocols to be more open to public scrutiny. The Department of Corrections is currently exempt from that process.

We now know why Missouri officials were so secretive about their method of acquiring Pentobarbitol, which is also known as Nembutal, and using it to execute people. The drug, which is similar to Pentothal, is produced by Lundbeck, a pharmaceutical company in Deerfield, IL. On January 26, 2011 the company contacted Gary C. Mohr, Director of the Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and asked him to stop using Pentobarbitol to execute people.

The manufacturers of other drugs, such as propofol and phenobarbitol, also have objected to the use of their products to execute people and have taken steps to prevent states from acquiring them for that purpose.

The DPIC also reports:

Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) recently issued public statements reminding members of their ethical obligation not to participate in legally authorized executions. As courts and legislatures throughout the country continue to struggle with questions related to lethal injection procedures, AMA president William G. Plested III noted that AMA policy clearly prohibits medical professionals from participating in executions because it “erodes public confidence in the medical profession.” The NAEMT issued a position paper stating that member participation in executions is forbidden because it “is inconsistent with the ethical precepts and goals of the EMS profession.”

Missouri’s determination to do whatever it needs to do, including acting in secret and paying cash to acquire drugs that will kill people is an absurd tinkering with the machinery of death that is both abhorrent and indefensible to reasonable people.

Death by lethal injection is the last of the “best” solutions for humane executions that do not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The time has come to stop sentencing people to death, permanently stop executions by lethal injection or by any other method and convert all death sentences to life without parole.

34 Responses to Time to permanently stop executions by lethal injection

  1. colin black says:

    Strange as it may sound and if I was put into a position where I had to be executed for whatever reason.

    And I could choose from whatever form of execution has been offered to humans in history.
    Be it the disgraged officer left with a pistol an the knowlage to do the right thing an blow your own brains out.
    Or hanging fireing squad ,lethal injection.elecric chair gas chamber fireing squad an many more im forgetting..

    An Im not a lover of pain or the possibility of not dieing instantaneous .
    So my choice would be Madame Guillatine .

    I think the French had it right a razor sharp piece of steel heavy enough an dropped from a high distance.
    Down a well oiled track instantly decapitating you head from your body.
    Would kill you instantly an painlessly .

  2. colin black says:

    Lethal injection might be exceeded in cruelty only by interminate/isolation!!

    Ed what is inteirmate..isolation ?

    Whatever it be it doesn’t sound splendid.

  3. ed nelson says:

    In regards to the Death “penalty”… Just put me down as, when it is justly deserved, then the penalty of death should be done in a common sense way. By which I mean: with out the vengeance, and as a way to expedite the thing, in a way that is on the up and up. Which I mean: as least as good as the ancients concieved of in their better days… (of course… )… Stoning in a commons area, comes to mind!!! The stonee, at least enjoys seeing the glee of his antagonists. and it is a great reality version of the… banned funnest game in school in the 50’s… “Dodge ball”,,, except maybe in the case of execution, well you don’t get to throw any.

    And, in regards to the deal where they trotted out the ”Lethal Injection soft soap BS: coin a phrase: the best ideas of mice and men… Soft soap the deal, make it sound real nice, almost… humanitarian… and therein, works the Devil in the details: a super wonderfull way to administer the death penalty in the most horrendously inhumanoid way ever!!!! The quintescential opposite of the promise… (in line with ”bate and Switch… dialectical opperations… )

    Lethal injection might be exceeded in cruelty only by interminate/isolation!!

  4. colin black says:

    The thing Is no matter how heinious cruell an unfathamble a crime a person commits.

    People are complex creatures an some have the ability to change there entire persona.

    I know the old clichie every convict sees the light finds religion an Is regretfull off there past deeds .And now they are born again an tottaly different people.

    And often It is just baloney phoney working there ticket to get out.However as I said humans are mostly anyway complex creatures.Whith obvious exseptions …foggen..He so dumb if brains were doughnuts he wouldn’t have enough to make the hole in the centre .

    Some though do metamorphise into entirely different people from the person that entered prison decades before.

    And believe me when that does happen rare as it may be. There is no worse punishment or ordeal you can inflict on another human that those that develop a conscience

    Those that have to face the monster they were an the hurt an chaos they inflicted on there Victims.There victims Familys often there own Familys as well.

    People can hate or loath another person but theres no worse hate .Than self hate an self loathing.
    And these people envey the dead.

  5. The Death Penalty Information Center is an excellent source of information about all things death penalty.

  6. lady2soothe says:

    I’d much rather know the deserving guilty party was rotting away in prison.

    Other than killing/murdering MANY innocent people Capital Punishment violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

    This is an imbalanced and unreasonable structure against people primarily dependent on race, lack of funds, ability of court-appointed attorney, education and race of the victim. People with deeper pigmented skin are more likely to be executed than people with less natural coloring, especially if the victim is considered “White”.

    As of April 1, 2013: there were 3,108 prisoners on Death Row, White 1,341 (43.15%) Black 1,300 (41.83%) Latino/Latina 369 (12.52%) Other 78 (2.52%)… In 2012, the population of African Americans including those of more than one race was estimated at 44.5 million, making up 14.2% of the total U.S. population.

    So out of the 3,108 prisoners on Death Row 42 percent, approximately 450 were Black, which is abnormally disproportionate considering the 312 prisoners exonerated by the Innocence Project is about 70 percent or 218 are people of color.

    • There is no question that the death penalty has been applied disproportionately against blacks.

      Race matters in decisions regarding whom to arrest, whom to charge, what to charge them with, whether they get convicted and what sentence they get.

      • lady2soothe says:

        I know it’s not a death penalty case but I can’t help but go back to the Affluenza Victim (cough, cough) Ethan Couch. His family’s business has an estimated $15 million annual income. Ethan’s parents have both had incidents with the law, but never served any prison time. Ethan’s father was charged with criminal mischief, theft by check and assault: charges dismissed. Ethan’s mother was sentenced to a $500 fine and a six-month community supervision order for reckless driving.

        Evidently all you need is to have enough $$$ to bribe a crook legal system or a *Celebrity Fixer*

  7. bettykath says:

    I see the upcoming trial as a massive conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. Everyone who participates is a co-conspirator. Even if he get LWOP, they have conspired in an attempted murder. Those who remain silent will unindicted co-conspirators imo.

    Really strange to see pharmaceutical companies on the right side of something for a change.

  8. colin black says:

    What I find indefensible is that scum can kidnap, rape and murder innocents and have nothing more than life without parole. I support the death penalty. I’m sure there are many ways to kill someone “humanely”. OD ing on cocaine comes to mind.

    Overdose them on cocaine???

    You think they want execute them by having them talking crap non stop ?

  9. colin black says:

    Dhyamhorpine a k a Heroin .

    Will kill you without the need for cocktails ect.

    It performs all the processes thease various cocktails try to achive.

    Its a pain killer mucle relaxant and will render you uncouncious an given in large dosages or small dosages to those with no resistance.

    Relaxes your heart mucle so much it stops beating .

    All this happens after you have drifted into oblivion and I no from personal expearianse you feel no pain an suffer no distress from anything.

    ive accidently overdosed twice on opiates an turned blue an stopped breatheing.

    Once I was resusatated by a companion whom had nurseing training an expearance.

    The second time I ended up in hospital where they either use a saline salt to clear out the opiates an a massive adrenyllyn shot to resusatate you,

    I was told I had died twice in the back of the ambulance on the way to hospital.And that a paramedic had to resuscitated me twice .

    Obviously Im glad I survived many close freinds I had did not.

    I grew up In Edinburgh an a Guy called Irvine Walsh used to hang out at the shops,,,Dealers me an my friends frequented…

    He turned out to be a pretty good writer an a sponge for a brain an years later he wrote a book called Trainspotting.

    Wich became a huge hit a best seller an was also a sucsesfull movie.

    He was what we hard core junkies refer to as a tourist.
    Liked to dabble now an again but was never a hard core user.

    Fair play to him he plageruised mine an my friends lifes but also documented it in a brilliant an satirical fashion.

    Ive been clean an sober for over twenty years but don’t regret my life .

    I am against the death penalty period by hanging shooting gas chamber whatever.

    And Im sure if it had not been for the desires of Gary Gillmore to insist on his death suiside by state back in the late 70s
    It would already be abolished in America.

    They have always saught to appear to execute the condemned in a humane manner..

    The original concept when gas was first used to execute.
    Was to place the condemned In a special cell wich could be sealed airtight with out the prisoners knowlage.

    One night without his knowlage he or she would go to sleep the special cell would be sealed an silent gas either carbon monoxide or cyande gas Is pumped in .

    An the condemned never wakes up.
    They thought it was a perfect an humane way to kill.No pre execution stress ect.

    The State legistaters said they were good to go an the first person was going to be gassed in a few days.

    However when lawers heard about it they objected an claimed it was cruell an unusall punishment .And that no one should die without knowing the date an time an be offered the chance to accept last rites an make a statement if they so wished.

    And there objection was upheld.

    • MDH says:

      The best way to get rid of that baggage is to move to an area that has whites in a minority or not in a large majority. That way Trayvon is the kid next store who you take to ice skating with your children, the teen working his way through school who serves you coffee at Dunkin Doughnuts, or the newbie at the gym who needs a spot on the bench press. Not a faceless abstraction wearing a hoodie.

      And the above is perplexing about Zimmerman. Metro DC and Northern Va. is a montage of color and culture that can not be avoided on a personal level, unless one is very sheltered.

      I doubt that one could walk very far anywhere inside the beltway, and not see a black teen in a hoodie.

      Zimmerman strikes me as one of these creeps who just stays in his car and rarely walks anywhere alone.

      There are men and then there are Zimmermen.

  10. cielo62 says:

    What I find indefensible is that scum can kidnap, rape and murder innocents and have nothing more than life without parole. I support the death penalty. I’m sure there are many ways to kill someone “humanely”. OD ing on cocaine comes to mind.

    • Hi, Cielo.

      I know you strongly support the death penalty, so we will probably have to agree to disagree.

      I will ask you two questions, though.

      Where would you draw the line between those who deserve the death penalty and those who do not?

      How would you maintain consistency in your decisions year in and year out?

      • concernedczen says:

        Overdosing on cocaine or any other drug is not a “humane” way to die. As my physiology professor recently pointed out OD’ing is an incredibly tortuous way to die.

  11. Sandy says:

    I’m glad these pharmaceutical compies are putting the hammer down on sales of these drugs to prisons. Even though I think some folks just need killin’ (Craig Michael Wood for example), we really should get rid of the death penalty altogether. It just doesn’t feel right for our government to actively participate in the planning and killing of a human being. Life in prison should be the default sentence for the most heinous crimes.

    • Malisha says:

      I believe people who “need killin'” should be killed by non-governmental agencies such as really angry individuals who then face trial and, one hopes, jury nullification. Preferable to govt. actions that are outside the province of government. (That is, you don’t govern by killing, or by permitting or promoting killing. You may CONTROL that way but you do not GOVERN.)

  12. The situation has even broader impact. The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) points out:

    “The ASA certainly does not condone the use of sodium thiopental for capital punishment, but we also do not condone using the issue as the basis to place undue burdens on the distribution of this critical drug to the United States. It is an unfortunate irony that many more lives will be lost or put in jeopardy as a result of not having the drug available for its legitimate medical use.”


    • Two sides to a story says:

      I’m completely against all capital punishment, but why not just give someone an overdose of heroin or something? Would be a lot more pleasant.

  13. lady2soothe says:

    Good morning Professor, Crane, Everyone

    Stop Extreme Sentencing from Destroying Families

    Please SIGN and SHARE with your friends asking them to do the same.


    • Signed. Saw the old ‘residue of crack cocaine’ that the (lying cops throw on people) person is serving life or some fucked up variation of that and, well, I don’t need any further convincing, quite frankly!

      • Two sides to a story says:

        How on earth does anyone think such a sentence is just? Especially in a country where we can’t even put racist murderers away?

        • It isn’t just. The ‘justice system’ passed ‘just’ a while back, I think! Seriously. I used to joke about it, but it really is not funny in the least: If only I had killed someone.

          True story: A woman that I was in prison with, was there for conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of a corpse. (murder of a pregnant woman, burning the corpse, cutting the baby out, and so on). Her sentence was less than mine, at just 7 years, with a surprisingly early parole- 3 years, maybe, if that.

          It’s called having a dad who is politically connected, added to money under the table, to the local dirty lawyer.


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