Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don't Experiment With Drugs, Kids

Two Hour Botched Execution in Arizona:

Arizona had never tried the two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone before it injected an unknown dose into Joseph Wood's veins Wednesday afternoon. Most executions by lethal injection take between 10 and 20 minutes once the drugs are injected, if performed properly. This experimental cocktail took almost two hours to end Wood's life, so long that his lawyer had time to file an emergency stay of execution in federal court, claiming that Wood had been "coughing and snorting for over an hour" by then. "I counted about 660 times he gasped," reported an Arizona Republic reporter who witnessed the execution. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement that Wood "died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer."
And of course, Jan Brewer is perfectly qualified to make that judgment given A. she wasn't there and B. her advanced medical training and background.
Defense attorneys have repeatedly begged the courts to compel corrections officials to at least reveal the source of the drugs that would end their clients' lives. They have repeatedly been refused. This time, Wood and his lawyers tried a First Amendment challenge to execution-secrecy laws, arguing that the public has a right to know how their government puts their fellow citizens to death. This would also give the inmates the facts needed to pursue Eighth Amendment challenges.

But so far, lower courts have deferred to the states' claimed need for secrecy. "The information already released by the state enables informed debate about the lawfulness and propriety of Arizona’s two-drug cocktail," replied federal Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit. Wood appealed that decision to the Supreme Court; last night, the justices denied his petition without further comment or dissent. Less than 24 hours later, Wood died choking.
And I noted the irony of "Judge" Bybee being part of the decision two days ago in my post. If anyone should know anything about torture, it's the author of the "Torture Memos" I suppose.

Predictably, the git tuff types are howling back with false equivalents and other straw men regarding what Wood did to end up there (as if we should be using a murderer's actions as our baseline for determining morality and legal punishments), and insisting that the witnesses themselves were wrong (even if they weren't there).
When states were able to use the single-drug protocol with pentobarbital, the executions went smoothly.  The problem here has been caused by those who pressured the suppliers to stop supplying pentobarbital, and any response should be directed at reopening that supply line.

The anti-death-penalty crowd is already throwing around their favorite word, "botched."  Wrong.  Joseph Wood died, as he should have, and he was sedated, not suffering extreme pain or, for that matter, any pain.  That is not "botched."
Again, a pro-death penalty blogger (who wasn't there and has no medical background or training) isn't qualified to make that statement. Although I do like the way he assertively identifies the killer "Joseph Wood" by name...ironically, the Arizona Department of Corrections didn't even know his name when they killed him initially, referring to him as "Robert G. Jones" in a press release. Jones, Wood, Smith, whoever.

More fascinating is that it took so long to be carried out, Wood's lawyers had time to make an appeal in the courts to stop it, even getting Justice Anthony Kennedy on the phone from the Supreme Court.
In a bizarre twist, Mr. Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to halt the procedure as Mr. Wood lay on the gurney, and they even called Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court.

“He is still alive,” the lawyers said in the district court appeal, filed just after 3 p.m. “This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment. We respectfully request that this court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”

Mr. Wood died before the district court responded, while Justice Kennedy turned down the request to halt the procedure by telephone while Mr. Wood was still alive, said Robin Konrad, a lawyer for Mr. Wood.
Which makes no sense. What, "let's see if he dies first and then make the call to stop it?" I have a hard time believing one of our supreme court justices could be that dense.

Regardless, as I wrote the other day, the death penalty itself is circling the drain and will eventually be relegated to the ash heap of history where it resides in most other civilized worlds. But it won't be before the junkies (er pro-death penalty states experimenting with illicit drugs) and their supporters torture to death scores more in the process.

Cross posted to: The Cranky Sociologists 

UPDATE: Today's NYT (7/25) has more on the fallout of Arizona's chamber of horrors. The state AG has suspended further executions until further notice.
The Arizona attorney general on Thursday called a temporary halt to executions in the state, a day after the convicted killer Joseph R. Wood III died one hour and 57 minutes after his execution began. Death penalty experts said it was one of the longest times it has taken in the United States for drugs to kill a condemned man.

But Charles L. Ryan, the director of the state’s Department of Corrections rejected the notion that the execution was botched, despite the fact that the procedure of death by lethal injection usually takes about 15 minutes. He said in a statement that an autopsy by the Pima County medical examiner, concluded on Thursday, found that the intravenous lines were “perfectly placed,” “the catheters in each arm were completely within the veins” and “there was no leakage of any kind.”

“I am committed to a thorough, transparent and comprehensive review process,” Mr. Ryan said.
LOL. That must be why the names of the execution team, the source of the drugs, and the chain of custody related to those drugs is "state secret" and Mr. Ryan's department has fought tooth and nail from allowing the information to be made public.

Interestingly, one of the judges who dissented in the decision to lift Wood's stay (thus being anti-death penalty) made the same argument the victim's family did in the aftermath: bring back the firing squad.
After the execution on Wednesday, Ms. Dietz’s brother-in-law, Richard Brown, scolded reporters, saying that Mr. Wood “smiled and laughed at us, and then went to sleep.” He added: “So all you people who think that these drugs are bad? Well, to hell with you guys. You guys need to look at the big picture. This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let's worry about the drugs. Why didn't they give him a bullet?"

In a legal opinion that preceded the execution, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, dissenting from the court’s decision to deny a full hearing over a panel’s granting of a temporary stay of execution for Mr. Wood, said that death by lethal injection should be replaced by more “foolproof” methods, preferably firing squads. Judge Kozinski referred to drug-induced deaths as a “misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful.” 

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Judge Kozinski declined to talk directly about the Wood execution, but said that in general, “bodies are different, and people react differently to the medicine” in lethal injections. “I think mishaps are inevitable” with drugs, he added, “unlike bullets.” Besides, he said, “These medicines are not made to kill people — they are made to heal.”
Precisely. I discuss this in my punishment class every year, but as we have sanitized the methods of killing, we somehow try to pass ourselves as more "humane and enlightened" in the 21st century, and in the process make the death penalty look like it's just someone laying down on a gurney and going to sleep.

The judge is saying: you want to keep the death penalty? Then let's go back to more barbaric methods like firing squads or the electric chair, and open them up to the public so we can see exactly what is taking place in the chamber.

Beyond a few knuckle-dragging supporters, the judge is arguing, most people would be aghast at the machinery of death up close and choose to put an end to it. 

Regardless, we (the people, the state) will continue playing the same games with bone and flesh that the murderers do. And call ourselves more "enlightened" in the process.

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