We may not be quite there yet, but this new post by Kristin Collins of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation (which originally appeared on the blog of the Center for Alternatives to the Death Penalty) does a great job of explaining how thoroughly dysfunctional the nation’s various death machinery systems have become.

090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgU.S. executions grind to a halt as lethal injection stumbles
By Kristin Collins

The death penalty has been on the decline in the U.S. for more than a decade, but right now, capital punishment is imploding rather spectacularly in almost every state in the nation.

States are scrambling for lethal drugs, importing them from illegal foreign sources, and passing laws to keep their sources secret. Several executions have been called off with minutes or hours to spare because of faulty drugs. The handful of states still attempting to execute inmates, often with untested drug combinations, have created a spectacle of torturous botched executions.

Here is just a sampling of recent headlines:

Oklahoma, just months after the bloody and horrifying 45-minute execution of Clayton Lockett, accidentally executed a prisoner using the wrong drug. The error was discovered minutes before a second man was set to be executed with the same unapproved drug combination. Executions are now on hold indefinitely.

Arizona and Texas attempted to illegally import lethal drugs from India, only to have federal agents seize the drugs at the airport.

Ohio — after passing laws to keep the sources of its drugs secret, and failed attempts to obtain drugs from unregulated compounding pharmacies and illegal foreign sources — gave up and put executions on hold until 2017, saying it simply could not find the drugs it needed. Executions are now stalled in several states because of drug shortages.

Utah has again legalized the firing squad, to be used if the state is unable to find drugs for lethal injection.

Executions are now on hold in 16 states, including North Carolina, due to problems with lethal injection. They outnumber the small handful of states that still have a functioning death penalty. Read More


(This post has been updated — see below).

There’s good news and bad news from the North Carolina Senate today.

The good news is that this is the last day for Senate committees to meet during the 2015 session. Senators will undoubtedly bend this rule in the days to come, but as a general matter, the official end of committees is a good sign that a) the flood of dreadful new laws should slow down at least a little and b) lawmakers are beginning to kinda sorta think about ending this nightmare of a session.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that senators will almost certainly be ramming a bevy of bills through committee today with scarcely any review or public input.

In this troubling vein, check out the agenda for today’s Judiciary II Committee where members are scheduled to review ten — count ’em ten — bills in one meeting that will convene just two hours before the Senate floor session. And to make matters worse, included in this list are two especially problematic proposals that are all about death:

And, of course, to make matters even more worrisome, the Senate has a penchant for adding everything but the kitchen sink to such bills in last minute “committee substitutes.” Thus, for instance, while the Schaffer’s gun bill was significantly watered down prior to passage in the House, it seems entirely plaussible that senators will pull a new version of the bill out of their hats this morning.

(UPDATE: After an absurdly fast-paced and at times, borderline chaotic meeting in which many members of the public were not admitted due to the tiny committee room that was used, both bills were passed by voice votes and now move to the Senate floor.)


090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgThe global and national trend is unmistakable and, let’s hope, irresistible: the death penalty is on the way out and increasingly confined to authoritarian/theocratic states and lawless regions controlled by criminal bands.

In case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully lauds Nebraska’s courageous repeal vote from last week and urges North Carolina to get on board with this encouraging and fast-growing bandwagon. Here’s the excellent conclusion to the N&O essay:

“The death penalty also smacks of revenge punishment, something to give satisfaction to the family and friends of a murder victim. That’s not what the court system is about. It is about justice, not revenge.

And to argue, as many politicians have over many decades, that the death penalty is important because it is a deterrent to crime is simply disingenuous. It’s political convenience, because there’s little evidence to show a connection between the establishment of the death penalty and a decrease in crime. States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it.

Sadly, North Carolina’s Republicans continue to lead the state away from enlightened thought on the issue. Legislators now are moving to restart stalled executions in the state by eliminating the requirement that a doctor be present.

North Carolina’s People of Faith Against the Death Penalty offered a good summation here: “It is no longer conservative to support the death penalty – it’s just outdated. The legislators in Nebraska voted their consciences. They voted their values. They value life and creation and justice for all and recognize that the death penalty is, in fact, contrary to these values.”

It has been more than 40 years since a state acted to abolish the death penalty. Let us hope Nebraska’s action will be followed by other states sooner than that.”

Also, be sure to check out this op-ed from Fridays’ Asheville Citizen-Times in which a contributor explains his own evolving views on the death penalty.


Today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File does a great job of exposing the downright craziness of the latest proposal to revive the death penalty in North Carolina and, in particular, the notion that we should keep the nature of the “drug cocktail” used to kill people a secret. Here’s Chris:

“States that still execute people can’t figure out how to do it and innocent people continue to be released from death row every year.

Simply making the process a secret to speed it up is not the answer. Henry McCollum is living proof of that.”

Of course, it could be that Chris is thinking too narrowly. Maybe this whole secrecy business is just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended). After all, once they succeed in keeping the secret death sauce contents away from prying public eyes, the obvious next step for death penalty supporters will be to keep the means of death itself a secret.

Yeah, that’s the ticket! Instead of sentencing people to “death by lethal injection,” we can just start sentencing them to “death by whatever handy means are readily available.”

And then, after the public gets used to that, we can simply sentence the condemned to “disappear.” Maybe we could even contract the job out to hyper-efficient private companies to save the taxpayers time, money and hassle. I’ll bet we can find some great offshore vendors to handle the contract.


Count_the_Reasons-768x1024(Cross-posted from the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty)

By Kristen Collins

Some of N.C.’s legislators say it’s time to restart executions here, after a nearly eight-year hiatus. Do they know what they’re suggesting? North Carolina has one of the largest death rows in the nation with more than 150 people. Turning the faucet back on could trigger a Texas-style surge in executions. This is the solution at a time when there is a nationwide shortage of execution drugs, leading to disasters like the one in Oklahoma? After the SBI admitted manufacturing evidence in murder trials? After a judge found widespread racial bias in N.C.’s capital punishment system? After the many high-profile exonerations we’ve seen? Maybe these legislators missed all this news. So, here is a primer — eight reasons why the rational and fair-minded citizens of North Carolina are looking for alternatives to the death penalty:

1. Innocent people will die

Maybe you think that, if you don’t kill anyone, you don’t have to worry about the death penalty. You would be wrong. A new study estimates that 1 in 25 people sentenced to death are innocent–and many of them will never be able to prove it. In N.C., seven innocent people have been released from death row. All told, exonerated men have served 50 years on death row here. And those are just the ones we know about. Others will never get a chance to prove their innocence because crucial evidence in their cases has been lost or destroyed. (The evidence of Joseph Sledge’s innocence was stuffed in a locker and lost for three decades before his attorneys finally dug it out.)

2. Killing people is not as easy as it sounds

Just ask Oklahoma.  Their attempt at lethal injection had to be aborted, and the condemned man died of a heart attack after 43 minutes of suffering. Lethal injection was supposed to be the clean, humane solution to killing inmates–but it’s getting messier all the time. Drug manufacturers are refusing to sell their drugs for executions. States are resorting to experimental drug combinations and using sources so questionable that they are trying to make the identities of their suppliers “state secrets.” The result: botched executions and lawsuits. Does North Carolina want to join this macabre circus? Or would we prefer to return to older methods? Boiling people to death, maybe?
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