Quotes of the day

The head of Oklahoma’s prison agency is recommending an indefinite delay in executions while the state’s lethal injection protocol is under review following a botched procedure.

Gov. Mary Fallin had ordered a two-week delay, but Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton said Thursday that it could take longer “to refine the new protocols.”

“I intend to explore best practices from other states and ensure the Oklahoma protocol adopts proven standards,” he wrote in a letter to Fallin…

The recommendations follow Tuesday night’s execution of Clayton Lockett, which was halted after what prison officials described as a vein failure.


The family of a death-row prisoner who died after a botched lethal-injection said they are considering a lawsuit against Oklahoma to force changes in the execution process.

“I’m not seeking financial gain from this,” said Ladonna Hollins, the stepmother of convicted killer and rapist Clayton Lockett, who appeared to regain consciousness and struggle in pain in the middle of his execution Tuesday night…

“I want them to admit they did wrong and after that, let’s change this,” said Hollins, who has not retained a lawyer yet. “If we are going to put people to death, let’s do it the right way.”…

The family of Joseph Clark — whose 2006 execution took 86 minutes after the team struggled to find a usable vein — filed a $150,000 suit that was ultimately thrown out by a judge who ruled his suffering was not “intolerable.”


“The European Union is opposed to the use of capital punishment in all cases and under any circumstances,” said Ashton, Europe’s top diplomat, “based on the conviction that the death penalty is cruel, inhumane and irreversible, and its abolition is essential to protect human dignity.” France’s Foreign Ministry also issued a denunciation and urged Oklahoma and other U.S. states to impose a moratorium on executions…

Internationally, the United States belongs to a dwindling club of countries that still perform executions. With the exception of Belarus, all European countries have formally abolished the practice, which is also becoming less common in Africa and Latin America, either in law or in practice. Russia’s constitutional court enacted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1999, three years after the last execution there.

When the United Nations General Assembly called for a global death-penalty moratorium in 2012, U.S. delegates joined countries such as China, India, Iran, Japan, North Korea, Syria, and Zimbabwe in opposing the non-binding resolution. It ultimately passed with 110 countries voting in favor and 39 countries against. Only four countries—China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia—performed more executions than the U.S. in 2013, according to data gathered by Amnesty International. That year, the U.S. was the only country in the Western Hemisphere that carried out an execution.


The criticism spanned Europe’s ideological divide, outraging conservatives and liberals. Alice Arnold, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, a right-leaning newspaper in Britain, wrote that “America is missing the point,” which is about “the very concept of killing in cold blood” and not about the method…

Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and a member of the European Parliament, has been pressing European drug companies not to supply executioners in the United States. “As a very sincere friend, I think this is unworthy of the United States of America,” she said. “The response to the E.U. ban on the export of certain drugs for execution should not be to scrape the moral barrel.”

Javier Garvich, making a comment on the Spanish website of El País, wrote that “if this happened in Cuba or North Korea, the United Nations would seek international sanctions.”…

A Twitter message by someone who pretends to be God somehow caught the European mood. From @TheTweetOfGod: “How could Oklahoma botch an execution? If there’s one thing I would expect Americans to know how to do by now, it’s kill somebody.”


In the spring of 2010, the American Board of Anesthesiologists decided to revoke the certification of any member who participated in a lethal injection, a move that could prevent an anesthesiologist from working in most hospitals. “We are healers, not executioners,” a group official said at the time. The American Medical Association long has said that participating in executions violates a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath.

Soon came a shortage of a critical drug used in most lethal injections. The sole U.S. company providing sodium thiopental announced in 2011 that it would stop selling the powerful anesthetic, citing objections from Italy, where the drug had been manufactured. State corrections officials sought to import the drug but the European Union banned the export of drugs used in executions, and U.S. officials seized some drugs at the border.

Many states, including Ohio and Oklahoma, switched primarily to another anesthetic drug, pentobarbital, which is used mostly for inducing comas in patients in cases of brain injury and is also used by veterinarians to anesthetize or euthanize animals. After a Danish manufacturer restricted its use in executions, some states sought out the drug from compounding pharmacies, which custom-mix small batches of drugs and whose products until recently have not been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration…

“We have a dozen methods of lethal injection out there now,” Denno said. “[States] are not prepared to do this; they’re not knowledgeable to do this, and they don’t want to fess up to all the problems that are associated with something like this.”


Most manufacturers have watertight procedures to prevent their products being used in judicial killings in the wake of a European-lead boycott of the death penalty.

However, two – Akorn and Sagent – do not.

Most drug companies distributing in the US, such as APP, Lundbeck and West-Ward, have imposed strict distribution controls on medicines that could be used by death penalty states to execute their death row inmates. These controls channel sales of the drugs only through a small number of identified distributors, who are legally bound never to pass the products to departments of correction unless for strictly medical use. The controls also prohibit sales of the drugs to third-party outlets such as wholesalers, retailers or compounding pharmacies, who might then re-sell the medicines to prison services in death penalty states…

Maya Foa, a lethal injection expert at the human rights campaign Reprieve, said: “No pharmaceutical company or pharmacist would want to be associated with what happened in Oklahoma on Tuesday, nor any other lethal injection execution. They have long opposed the abuse of their medicines in executions, and many are now taking active steps to prevent it. It’s high time state departments of correction heeded their wishes and stopped violating medicines for the purpose of capital punishment.”


Georgia became the first state to outlaw the electric chair in 2001. In 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled the electric chair cruel and unusual punishment. The state later made lethal injection its default method of execution. And in 2008, the United States Supreme Court decided — as they had previously done with the electric chair — that lethal injection did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment…

Only eight states allow electrocution today — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Since it has become more difficult to obtain the drugs used in lethal injection — many manufacturers in Europe refuse to sell them to the United States if they are destined to be used for capital punishment. Some states — like Virginia — have tried to make the electric chair the default form of execution in the state if the necessary chemicals aren’t available.

Rather than consider abolishing the death penalty, the recent botched execution in Oklahoma is likely to inspire a rethinking of methodology, not an outright ban, as has happened previously in history. After it happens, there will still be people vocally opposing it, there will still be people who think it is necessary, and there is certainly going to be more botched executions making people rethink whether we should abolish the death penalty — or find a new way of doing it once more.


Lewis makes clear that he only supports the death penalty for the most heinous of crimes, and only for those crimes for which the defendant’s guilt is certain. At first blush, it’s hard to quarrel with that position. The rub is that we’ll always need to draw that line somewhere. How heinous must the crime be? And how certain of guilt must we be? There have been more than a few exonorations in cases in which it seemed unimaginable that the accused people could possibly have been innocent. And yet they were. We now know that prosecutors and police are capable of fabricating and planting evidence. Not that it’s necessarily common, but it happens. That means that even DNA cases aren’t necessarily iron-clad. The science behind the testing may be certain, but the gathering and testing of evidence will always be done by humans and be subject to all the biases, imperfections and temptations to corruption that come with them. Or to put it in terms with which conservatives might better relate: Police, prosecutors and crime lab technicians just as capable as conniving, malevolence and corruption as any other human being. There’s nothing transformative about a government paycheck that ensures altruism, honesty or goodness; the same goes with giving someone a badge or asking him or her to swear an oath.

This was the point of my poll question here earlier this week. If you support the death penalty, you have to recognize that it will be administered by human beings, who are flawed, and then you have to acknowledge the possibility that no system of justice can be perfect. This means that at over time, the probability of executing an innocent person eventually reaches 1. The question, then, isn’t whether you believe an innocent person has ever been executed. The question is how many innocent people you’re comfortable executing…

People who subscribe to different belief systems sometimes have irreconcilable views on public policy issues with a strong moral component. The death penalty is one of those issues. But conservatives are supposed to be skeptical of government. That is a fundamental part of their belief system. And, except perhaps war, there’s no issue for which the consequences of government error or abuse of power are more absolute, irreversible and profound. Even if they support the idea of capital punishment in principle, it ought to be one of the last issues for which conservatives would be willing to abandon that skepticism. Yet it seems to be one of the issues for which their skepticism is most negotiable.


I believe in second chances. I believe in reform and rehabilitation. But I also believe in evil.

Twisted rapists and murderers are not in the same universe of criminal as drug users and thieves. So even as we slash mandatory minimum sentences and reform our prison system, I do not believe we should abandon capital punishment for most extreme cases.

You really can’t take someone like Clayton Lockett and reform him — or, at least, the odds of doing so are unfathomable. This wasn’t a crime of passion. He didn’t walk into his house, see his wife in bed with another man, fly into a rage, kill him, and then immediately feel remorse. He shot a 19-year-old woman and then watched his friends bury her alive. Try to reform that…

So yes, we ought to make sure we get to the bottom of what went wrong with this lethal injection. But no, we shouldn’t do too much hand-wringing and pearl-clutching along the way. At the end of the day, the death penalty should be safe, legal, rare — and utterly efficient.



As many as 300 people who were sentenced to death in the United States over a three-decade period were likely innocent, according to a study published in a leading science journal on Monday.

Dozens of defendants sentenced to death in recent years have been exonerated before their sentences could be carried out, but many more were probably falsely convicted, said University of Michigan professor Samuel Gross, the study’s lead author.

“Our research adds the disturbing news that most innocent defendants who have been sentenced to death have not been exonerated,” Gross wrote in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.