New execution drug for Alabama inmate

On December 8th this year, Alabama inmate Ronald Smith will be executed by a never-been-used-before drug. 

00z586The death row inmate suggested several alternative ways to be put to death next month. The Alabama Department of Corrections says it’s willing to try one of them. 

On Wednesday, a federal judge asked inmate Ronald Smith to decide by next week if he will agree, providing Smith consents the alternative drug suggested could be used to end his life. 

Smith is among a group of Alabama death row inmates who have been challenging Alabama’s three-drug lethal injection protocol for executions. 

Alabama’s current lethal injection protocol calls for three drugs to be administered. The first is midazolam: A controversial sedative used in several botched executions. The second is a drug that paralyzes the inmate. And the third is a drug that stops the heart; it is undisputed that the drug causes severe pain to a conscious person.

Death row inmates in Alabama have argued that the risk of pain is too high to use the third drug, and offered up a few different ways they could be killed. If death row inmates want to challenge their method of execution, the Supreme Court has said they have to propose better alternatives.

One of the options they proposed is to use a single dose of midazolam, the controversial sedative, and no other drugs. In previous executions throughout the United States, midazolam has always been paired with other execution drugs.

A “one-drug protocol using midazolam has never been tested, and thus, the ADOC reserves the right to administer further doses of midazolam as required.”



Changes across 3 states for the death penalty

Yesterday America went to the polls in voting for a new President. Alongside that in three states across America changes towards the death penalty were also being voted for. Today the results are in. 

As discussed in a previous article written: California Proposition 66 vs 62 I outline the two opposing new laws that were to be voted on yesterday in America alongside the presidency election. 

One was to abolish the death penalty (proposition 62) and another to speed up the process (proposition 66).

Result? California voted ‘no’ to abolish the death penalty and ‘yes’ to speeding up the time to make appeals. California hasn’t put anyone to death since 2006.


The Oklahoma Death Penalty Amendment, also known as State Question 776, was also voted on yesterday. Question 776, known as the Allow Any Execution Method, protects the death penalty in the constitution, blocking it from being declared cruel or unusual punishment. 

Voting yes supported amending the Oklahoma Constitution to guarantee the state’s power to impose capital punishment and set methods of execution – therefore vote yes to make changes to the current death penalty system imposed.

Voting no opposed amending the Oklahoma Constitution to guarantee the state’s power to impose capital punishment and set methods of execution – therefore vote no to make no changes and keep the current death penalty system imposed. 

Result? With a 66.37% majority of ‘yes’ Oklahoma passed a measure to reaffirm the state’s commitment to the death penalty after the state attorney general suspended executions last year.


Despite having only 10 male inmates on its death row, the issue has been hotly debated across the state of Nebraska to bring back the death penalty. 

The petition drive in the summer of 2015 was a tremendous success –  with more than 166,000 signatures gathered from Nebraskans in all 93 counties in 86 days. The people of Nebraska strongly believe that the death penalty is the best form of punishment for certain crimes committed. 

Result? The death penalty will now be reinstated after a win in voting yes to bring it back.  The vote is a big loss for opponents of capital punishment given that Nebraska was the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty in more than 40 years.

California Propositions: 66 vs 62

California Proposition 66: What does this mean for Death Penalty Procedures?

Alongside Americans voting nationwide for a new President, California Proposition 66, the Death Penalty Procedures Initiative, takes place today on November 8, 2016. It is a ballot for California only as an initiated state statute.

So what is Proposition 66 about?

Proposition 66 is designed to shorten the time that legal challenges to death sentences take to a maximum of five years.

“yes” vote supports changing the procedures governing state court appeals and petitions that challenge death penalty convictions and sentences.
“no” vote opposes changing the procedures governing state court appeals and petitions that challenge death penalty convictions and sentences and favors keeping the current system for governing death penalty appeals and petitions.

California is one of 30 states in America in which the death penalty is legal.

In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s capital punishment system was unconstitutional. However, in 1978,  Proposition 7 reinstated the death penalty. Voters rejected an initiative to ban capital punishment, titled Proposition 34, in 2012.

California Proposition 62: What does this mean for Death Penalty Procedures?
There is another death penalty-related measure, Proposition 62, that will appear on the same day to be voted on. If both measures pass, the one with the most “yes” votes would supersede the other.

California Proposition 62, the Repeal of the Death Penalty Initiative, is on the November 8, 2016, ballot in California as an initiated state statute.

“yes” vote supports repealing the death penalty and making life without the possibility of parole the maximum punishment for murder.
“no” vote opposes this measure repealing the death penalty

Proposition 62 vs. Proposition 66

Proposition 62 and Proposition 66 are not compatible measures. Therefore, if both are approved by a majority of voters, then the one with the most “yes” votes would supersede the other. The table below outlines some of the major differences between the two initiatives:

Proposition 62 Proposition 66
Repeals the death penalty. Keeps the death penalty in place.
Replaces the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment for murder. Changes the death penalty procedures to speed up the appeals process by putting trial courts in charge of initial petitions challenging death penalty convictions, establishing a time frame for death penalty review, and requiring appointed attorneys to work on death penalty cases.
Retroactively applies to prisoners already on death row at the time that the measure would take effect. Stipulates that all effects would occur once Proposition 66 is enacted and authorizes death row inmate transfers among California prisons.
Would require prisoners sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole to work and pay restitution to victims’ families. The portion of wages to be provided as restitution would be between 20 to 60 percent. Would require prisoners on death row to work while in prison and pay restitution to victims’ families. The portion of wages to be provided as restitution would be 70 percent or the restitution fine, whichever is less.
Stipulates that any provision found to be invalid will not affect the other provisions of the measure. Stipulates that other death penalty measures approved would be void in the event that more affirmative votes are given for Proposition 66.

Ohio’s 3 executions lie with a new injection

Columbus, Ohio plans to use a new three-drug combination of lethal chemicals to execute three death row inmates in 2017. 

The state plans to resume executions next year with this new drug after a three-year hiatus, state officials said Monday.

Ohio is one about a dozen states where executions have been stalled amid difficulties obtaining dependable drugs.

Ohio’s last execution took place in January 2014 when Dennis McGuire was put to death for the murder of a pregnant woman in 1993. Corrections officials employed a two-drug combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone. The process took 26 minutes, and witnesses said McGuire seized and gasped for 15 minutes.

Inmates going to be executed with new drug:
Ronald Phillips, convicted in Summit County.

Execution date: Jan. 12.

Crime: Phillips, 43, was sentenced to die for the rape and murder of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter, in Akron in 1993. His execution has been put on hold several times, including in 2013 when he made a last-minute request that was ultimately denied to donate a kidney to his mother, who was on dialysis, and possibly his heart to his sister.


Raymond Tibbetts, convicted in Hamilton County.

Execution date: Feb. 15.

Crime: Tibbetts, 59, killed his wife, 42-year-old Judith Crawford, by beating her with a bat and stabbing her during an argument over Tibbetts’ crack cocaine habit. Tibbetts then stabbed 67-year-old Fred Hicks to death at Hicks’ Cincinnati home. Hicks had hired Crawford as a caretaker and allowed the couple to stay with him. Tibbetts was sentenced to death for the killing of Hicks and life imprisonment without parole for the death of Crawford.


Gary Otte, convicted in Cuyahoga County.

Execution date: March 15.

Crime: Otte, 44, shot 61-year-old Robert Wasikowski to death on Feb. 12, 1992, and stole about $400 after asking to come inside his apartment in Parma in suburban Cleveland to use the phone. The next day, Otte shot 45-year-old Sharon Kostura to death in the same apartment and stole $45 and her car keys after forcing his way inside. Otte was sentenced to death for both slayings.

Support for death penalty lowest in 40 years

With the death penalty still legal in 31 states across American, new research has found that under a half of Americans (49%) actually favour the death penalty for those convicted of murder, whilst 42% strongly oppose it. 

Support for death row has dropped by 7% since March 2015, from 56%. 


In the mid 1990’s, public support for capital punishment peaked, with 8 out of 10 Americans (80% in 1994) agreeing with the death penalty, with fewer that 2 in 10 opposing it (16%). Opposition to the death penalty in America is the highest it has been since 1972.

The recent figures come from Pew Research Centre which conducted the survey this year between August 23rd and September 2nd amongst 1,201 American adults. 

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-09-18-16While the overall rate has fallen considerably since the mid-nineties, politics still play a big role in who supports the death penalty and who doesn’t. In the Pew poll, 34% of Democrats said they support it while 72% of Republicans did.

One theory to explain the declining level of support for the death penalty is the negative press that surrounds the most popular form of conducting the death penalty: legal injection. 

In 2014, multiple inmates on death row were the victims of botched executions when the cocktail of drugs meant to sedate, paralyze, and ultimately kill the men failed to work properly. Some inmates struggled for an hour or more, convulsing on the sedation table before coroners eventually declared them dead of a heart attack.

In the two years since, the US federal government has yet to come up with a widely agreed upon alternative to lethal injection drugs, and so fewer executions are being carried out overall.

In 1999, 98 people received the death penalty. So far this year, only 15 have met the same fate.

Duane Buck fights the Supreme Court

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, Washington, had to confront the issue of racism when reviewing a 20-year-old death penalty case involving a black defendant whose race was given as a reason for considering him a danger to society. The case continues today. 
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20 years ago, on May 5, 1997, Duane Buck (left) was convicted of the capital murders of shooting Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler whilst under the influence of drugs in 1995, with the argument of him being a black man making him a danger to society, thus sending him onto death row as punishment. 

His case has come forward to Washington Supreme Court, amid an intense national debate over racism in law enforcement after the current wave of American police killing black suspects. 

Buck’s case highlights the question over racial prejudice in the US judicial system, with the Supreme Court providing a high profile forum for arguments over the way cases involving black defendants are treated.

There is no question about Buck’s guilt in the brutal 1995 slaying of his former lover and the man he found her with. But the courts challenge, centers not on the ultimate punishment itself, but on how the jury decided on the death penalty in Buck’s case.

“What this case is really about,” said Sam Pital, a legal expert, “is whether or not the court is going to permit Texas to pursue an execution where the capital sentencing proceeding was fundamentally tainted by so-called expert testimony that the defendant, Mr Duane Buck, was more deserving of a death sentence because he is black.”

Under Texas law, a person cannot be condemned to death unless the prosecutor proves that he or she poses a future danger to society.

Today, Buck has an impressive defence team fighting for justice, including lawyers from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the nation’s leading black civil rights group.

Back in 1997 and at the time of his conviction, Buck was represented by two court-appointed lawyers, one of whom, Jerry Guerinot, had a dismal record.

Guerinot had won zero acquittals over the course of his career and had no fewer than 20 clients who were sentenced to death.

During the sentencing hearing, Guerinot used a pseudo psychologist named Walter Quijano as an expert witness. Quijano told the court Buck presented a higher risk of recidivism because he was black.

Buck’s defenders say the racist assumption contained in Quijano’s assertion tainted the jury, violating the defendant’s constitutional right to a public trial by an impartial jury.

This case along with the case of Bobby J. Moore (another death row inmate from Texas prison) has forced the American legal system to look at the punishment of the death penalty and its effectiveness more closely. 

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Bobby J.Moore (left) and Duane Buck (right) – both cases brought to Washington Supreme Court this autumn. (source:


“The Supreme Court cases this fall are addressing the brokenness of the judicial system,” said Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilising Network to End the Death Penalty.

She added that these cases are highlighting the most troubling aspect of the death penalty, with is disproportionately and unfairly used on vulnerable populations. 

Buck vs Stephens will be argued before the court on October 5, with his guilt or innocence  not at stake; but whether he was given a fair sentence, based on the discrimination against his colour skin.