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July 24, 2014



Execution Gone Awry Prompts Concern Over Dubious Lethal-Injection Drugs

by P. Nash Jenkins

Many states won't disclose how they obtain the chemicals used in lethal injections, bringing into question the constitutionality of recent executions

There are just over 3,000 prisoners on death row in the U.S., and 32 states where their execution remains a legal course of action. The decision to implement capital punishment in these states is generally accepted as constitutional, so long as its procedure is in line with the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel-and-unusual punishment.

The execution of Arizona inmate Joseph R. Wood III on Wednesday took nearly two hours to complete, over much of which Wood “gasped and struggled to breathe,” according to a statement released by his defense team. Of the 26 state-sponsored executions committed in the U.S. so far this year, Wood's was the third to seemingly go awry due to the use of largely experimental lethal chemicals, prompting outrage from those who cite these incidents as evidence that capital punishment is not constitutionally viable given the apparent suffering of its recipients.

“His two-hour struggle to death goes beyond cruel and unusual. It's torment. It's something you'd see in third-world and uncivilized societies,” Arizona state senator Ed Ableser told TIME on Wednesday night. “It's embarrassing to see that our state once again is in the news for everything that is wrong that happens in our government.”

The execution should have lasted no more than 15 minutes; when it became clear to witnesses that Wood's death would be prolonged, his attorneys unsuccessfully filed an emergency appeal to end the proceedings, the final of several attempts to save his life. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court had approved the execution after a lower court ruled that Arizona, in refusing to declare how it had obtained the lethal chemicals to be used in the injection, may have violated Wood's First Amendment rights.

In Woods' execution, the state used a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone — the same cocktail used by the state of Ohio in the execution of Dennis McGuire in January, in which the inmate floundered and wheezed on a gurney for nearly half an hour before the state pronounced him dead.

In a statement released after Wood's death, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said she was “concerned by the length of time” it took for the injection to kill him, and that she has instructed the state's Department of Corrections to investigate the matter thoroughly.

It's still not certain whether Woods indeed suffered pain — state officials have insisted that he was comatose throughout the process — but in any case, his prolonged death draws further attention to the efficacy of the lethal chemicals used for capital punishment in the U.S., one of the world's last developed nations to still punish its worst criminals with death.

States have been struggling to devise new lethal chemicals to be used in capital punishment since 2011, when U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies ceased to manufacture and sell sodium thiopental, an anesthetic compound that has traditionally been essential to America's execution cocktails. It has been a process of trial and error, of learning from mistakes. The mistakes are those execution attempts that do not transpire according to plan — typically marked by a death that comes more slowly and viscerally than anticipated.

In recent months, the hesitation of certain states to disclose information about the new chemicals has fueled a public skepticism over the exact physiological effects of these drugs on those to whom they're administered.

“It's time for Arizona and the other states still using lethal injection to admit that this experiment with unreliable drugs is a failure,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Capital Punishment Project, said in a statement released after Wood's death. “Instead of hiding lethal injection under layers of foolish secrecy, these states need to show us where the drugs are coming from. Until they can give assurances that the drugs will work as intended, they must stop future executions.”

Nearly a third of all executions involving the sedative used to kill Wood “have had extremely troubling problems,” according to a report released last month by the Death Penalty Information Center.

“Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution,” defense attorney Dale Baich told the press. “The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”



From burning at the stake to lethal injection, how America keeps reinventing capital punishment

by Lindsey Bever and Justin Moyer

Wednesday's execution in Arizona appears to be another case of lethal injection gone awry. It's not supposed to take two hours. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) called for a review.

But the way America kills criminals has been under review for centuries.

A little more than 400 years ago, what would become the United States saw what's believed to be its first execution.

In 1607, Capt. George Kendall of Jamestown, Va., was accused of mutiny, allegedly plotting to betray the British to the Spanish. He was stripped of his arms, imprisoned and shot.

A few years later, the death penalty was embraced in the colony for even small offenses such as stealing grapes — until a few years later, when laws were softened to attract more souls to the colony.

So began centuries of debate about capital punishment in the United States — not just about whether it was okay to kill convicted criminals, but how to kill them.

Methods were legion — and, as older ones were spurned as barbaric, new ones, often macabre, were embraced.

The breaking wheel gave way to hanging. Hanging gave way to the electric chair. The electric chair gave way to lethal injection. And, shortly before Wednesday's drawn-out execution of murderer Joseph R. Wood III in Arizona, one judge waxed nostalgic about the guillotine. At least it was efficient.

What does capital punishment look like — and when do we decide to change it? Here's a look back at the American killing floor.


Last used: 17th century

What it looked like: The prisoner lay on his back, perhaps on sharp rocks. A wooden slab was placed on his chest. Stones were put on top of the slab until the chest was crushed.

Notable example: There's only one documented pressing in American history. In 1692, the unfortunate Giles Cory, accused of wizardry, was pressed to death in Massachusetts in 1692 — as was John Proctor, the protagonist of Arthur Miller's “The Crucible.”


Last used: 18th century

What it looked like: The prisoner was tied to a wagon wheel and bludgeoned to death. Limbs were tied to spaces between the wheel's spokes, then broken.

Notable example: Seven slaves who participated in a slave revolt were broken on the wheel in 1730 in Louisiana, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.


Last used: 19th century

Notable examples: A slave accused of arson was burned in Massachusetts in 1681 — and, according to one account, a slave accused of rape in South Carolina was burned in 1830 — the last execution by burning in the United States.


When it was used: A lot. According to deathpenalty.procon.org, more than 9,000 people were hung in America between 1608 and 2002. The next common method, electrocution, killed only about 4,400.

Last used: In 1996, murderer Billy Bailey died by hanging in Delaware, choosing that method over lethal injection.

What it looks like: “Drop” hanging — dropping a prisoner from a proscribed height according to weight — breaks the neck or severs the head. Simply stringing up the condemned causes strangulation.

Notable examples: Many. Four people accused of conspiring to kill Abraham Lincoln were hung in 1865. A century later, so were Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the murderers Truman Capote profiled in “In Cold Blood.”


First used: Botched hangings led to criticism of the method as a remnant of the “dark ages” as early as 1886. So, in 1888, New York built the first electric chair. The idea came from Edison Company, which began demonstrating electrocution on animals, according to PBS. People got the hint: If it could be used to kill animals, it could be used to kill people, too. In 1890, William Kemmler is said to be the first person to “ride the lightning” as they said in “The Green Mile.”

Last used: In 2007, Tennessee child killer Daryl Holton elected to die by electrocution.

What it looks like: The offender sits in a chair wired to an electric current. A metal cap is put on the head and an electrode and wet sponge are strapped to the leg. Another is attached to the scalp. Once activated, 2,300 volts pass through his body for eight seconds, then 1,000 volts for 22 seconds and finally 2,300 volts for eight seconds, according to the Clark County Prosecutor's Office in Indiana.

Notable examples: Leon Frank Czolgosz, who murdered President McKinley, died in the electric chair in 1901. In 1989, so did serial killer Ted Bundy.


First used: In 1924, Gee Jon was reported to be the first prisoner to die in a gas chamber in the United States. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, this was also thought a humane alternative. In fact, Nevada wanted to pump cyanide gas into his prison cell while he was sleeping so he wouldn't see it coming. There were apparently a few technical difficulties and a gas chamber was quickly built to do the job.

Last used: Armed robber Walter LeGrand chose lethal gas in Arizona in 1999.

What it looks like: The inmate is strapped down around his chest, waist, arms and ankles in an airtight chamber. He wears a mask. When the chamber is activated, cyanide pellets hit a sulfuric acid solution and produce the lethal gas. According to the Clark County Prosecutor's Office: “Unconsciousness can occur within a few seconds if the prisoner takes a deep breath. However, if he or she holds their breath death can take much longer, and the prisoner usually goes into wild convulsions.” Once the inmate is dead, ammonia is pumped into the chamber to clear the air.

Notable example: Leonard Shockley is said to be the last juvenile to be executed in the gas chamber. In 1959, he was put to death in Maryland for a murder.


When it was used: Seeking yet another “humane” execution method in 1977, Oklahoma became the first state to use lethal injection, now the primary method of execution in the United States. It's now highly scrutinized amid drug shortages, secrecy laws that allow states to conceal the drug manufacturers and recent botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and, now, Arizona.

Last used: Wednesday. Witnesses said Joseph R. Wood III gasped and snorted for nearly two hours before he died in Arizona. The state planned to use a two-drug combination that had been used only once before in an execution, which ended much the same way.

What it looks like: The offender is strapped to a gurney in an execution chamber and connected to an IV in each arm. (One line is used as a backup in case there's a malfunction in the other.) The standard method has been the three-drug injection in which the first drug acts as an anesthetic, the second paralyzes the lungs and diaphragm and the third stops the heart, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. But the scarcity of these drugs is forcing states to search for substitutes. It forced Oklahoma to use a new drug in March as the first drug in a lethal injection that reportedly left a man writhing before he died from a heart attack. The one or two-drug protocols typically call for a lethal dose of an anesthetic or sedative. The two-drug cocktail was notably used this year in Ohio and, now, Arizona.

Notable example: In 1980, John Wayne Gacy was convicted of 33 murders and sentenced to die. After 14 years of appeals, Gacy was finally executed by lethal injection in 1994. At that time, no other person had been convicted of as many murders in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.


First used: George Kendall (see above)

Last used: John Albert Taylor was executed by firing squad in 1996. That was in Utah.

Notable example: Gary Gilmore, subject of Norman Mailer's book “The Executioner's Song.” In 1977, he chose to be executed by a Utah firing squad.

What it looks like: Traditionally, the firing squad is made up six shooters who stand opposite the prisoner, usually tied to chair or a stake, aim at the chest and fire. The head is a tougher target. The offender typically dies of hemorrhage and shock. A bucket beneath the chair catches the blood.

In a recent dissent (in a case involving the execution last night in Arizona) a federal appeals court judge praised this method — and others — as superior to lethal injection. “The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos,” Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. “And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising. … There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true.”

He had a broader point though: “The enterprise is flawed. Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful–like something any one of us might experience in our final moments. But executions are, in fact, nothing like that.”




Contact lost with Algerian jet over Africa

Air Algerie has lost contact with one of its passenger aircraft nearly an hour after takeoff from Burkina Faso on Thursday bound for Algiers.

"Air navigation services have lost contact with an Air Algerie plane Thursday flying from Ouagadougou to Algiers, 50 minutes after takeoff," Algeria's national airline said, cited by national news agency APS.

It said the company initiated an "emergency plan" in the search for flight AH5017, which flies the four-hour passenger route four times a week.

A company said contact with the flight was lost while it was still in Malian airspace approaching the border with Algeria.

Despite international military intervention still under way, the situation remains unstable in northern Mali, which was seized by jihadist groups for several months in 2012.

On July 17, the Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali launched tough talks in Algiers aimed at securing an elusive peace deal, and with parts of the country still mired in conflict.

"The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako route," the source said.

"Contact was lost after the change of course."

It is believed the aircraft is an MD83 leased to Air Algerie by Spanish airline Swiftair.

Swiftair said in a notice posted on its website that the aircraft took off from Burkina Faso at 0117 local time and was supposed to land in Algiers at 0510 local time but never reached its destination

It said some 110 people and six crew are listed as being on board the flight.

One of Algeria's worst air disasters occurred in February this year, when a C-130 military aircraft carrying 78 people crashed in the mountainous northeast, killing more than 70 people.

Tamanrasset in the deep south was the site of the country's worst ever civilian air disaster, in March 2003.

In that accident, all but one of 103 people on board were killed when an Air Algerie passenger plane crashed on takeoff after one of its engines caught fire.

The sole survivor, a young Algerian soldier, was critically injured.

More to come.



Rhode Island


Police methods that work

“Community policing” sounds like a belaboring of the obvious, but the concept, just a decade old in Providence, represents a turnabout in policing methods that has brought major reductions in crime to Rhode Island's capital city.

The New England Association of Chiefs of Police has bestowed its Community Policing Department of the Year award on the Providence Police Department. In spite of a decline in police resources, the city saw a 20 percent drop in crime last year.

In cities around the nation, community policing has replaced police practices grown sclerotic over decades as bureaucracy promoted a style of police work focused more on avoiding criticism than getting involved. But the idea of an officer on a beat who gets to know the problems of a neighborhood is back. It is not just a plot device from old movies anymore.

Providence instituted community policing in 2003, with the arrival of Dean Esserman as chief of police. Lieutenants were given more authority in their own districts. A statistical crime-tracking system was instituted that helps police plan a more comprehensive local strategy against crime.

Community policing also means treating small crimes such as loitering and graffiti as “gateways” to major crimes. Stops for minor offenses net illegal guns. Confiscation of those weapons and justice for their carriers prevent crimes from occurring — whether planned crimes or crimes of opportunity — and keeps more offenders off the streets.

The approach also means showing up to share in a neighborhood's celebrations and moments of grief. Providence police have done that repeatedly.

Mr. Esserman embraced community policing from his years with the New York Police Department. The tactics were controversial for a while, but success speaks for itself. More civilian organizations that might once have seen themselves mainly as police watchdogs now see themselves as police allies, contributing to a more effective fight for justice and safety in Providence.

Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements has done a fine job with diminishing resources. He commended his troops the other day, and was joined by Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, who told the policing award ceremony: “It's about collaboration, it's about trust, and it's about bringing partners to the table with new ideas.”

The police cannot do the job of protecting the public wholly on their own. It is a team effort, requiring the help of those in the community who prefer to live in safety and wish to contribute to the common good. Let us hope this team effort continues for many years to come.





Police need to engage residents

Bridgeport's gun buy-back program is, at best, as even Mayor Bill Finch concedes, not a "panacea," but merely one of the tools the city has to combat gun violence.

It's a pretty slim likelihood that one of the young thugs whose reputation, livelihood and maybe his very life depends on the gun he carries is likely to give it up in exchange for a groceries gift certificate.

Nevertheless, every gun that's no longer out in the public domain is one less gun that could be stolen or somehow fall into hands that will use it in a crime.

So the city's continued practice of buying guns with cash and other forms of compensation is worthwhile.

But it's just part of the effort. Another part of the approach that can always use bolstering in Bridgeport is the concept of community policing, the practice of police officers working and walking neighborhoods, getting out of squad cars and meeting the people who live and work in those neighborhoods.

Still too often, officers show up in a neighborhood only when they've been called to respond to some form of mayhem.

The people who live in Bridgeport's neighborhoods know who the bad actors are. They know who's selling drugs, likely carrying guns, who's carrying a grudge against whom.

A police officer who shows up only periodically is hardly going to have the trust of residents who may have a well cultivated distrust for the police.

Unfortunately, some recent episodes in Bridgeport featuring rogue officers have done nothing to dispel that notion.

Now, make no mistake, Fairfield is not Bridgeport, with its population of 143,000, and the challenges facing city officers and residents are, for the most part, far different from those facing their suburban counterparts.

Nevertheless, even now, police in Fairfield, an affluent community of some 59,000, are rolling out a form of community involvement in the town's downtown business district.

This is not rocket science. In Fairfield, the department has reached out to business owners, letting them know someone from the department would be stopping by and asking for input on concerns.

"The big picture is that we are looking for creative and more effective ways of partnering with the community, said Officer Lance Newkirchen.

"We rely so much on technology, we need to get back tgo the basics. a human touch and good, old-fashioned police work with a modern twist is really going to be nice for the downtown, nad then we can launch in other areas."

Community policing, of course, takes some effort on the part of officers. It involves more than waiting at a post for a call to respond.

And it will no doubt take some wrangling with the union.

Finch and Police Chief Joseph Gaudett have repeatedly -- and rightly -- pointed out that stopping violence is something that the police alone cannot do. And many neighborhood groups in Bridgeport have responded with cooperation.

It is not enough, though, to just ask the community to do more. The police have to go into the neighborhoods even when they have not been summoned, just to learn the lay of the land and meet the neighbors half way.



New York


Pick up pace in improving police-community relations

As New York City investigators gather facts in the shocking death of a father of six who was illegally choked by police during his arrest, there are obvious lessons that Rochester can learn from the tragedy.

Foremost, city and community leaders should recognize the urgent need for improved police-community relations. True, plans for such efforts are underway, but they still can't be implemented soon enough.

The anger among people of color, in particular, after last week's death of Eric Garner on Staten Island is familiar. It surfaced locally last summer after a woman was wrestled to the ground by Rochester police. Such anger is premised on a long history of mistrust of police in minority communities as a result of tragic incidents perceived to be unfair. The same kind of anger, in fact, triggered rioting exactly 50 years ago today when Rochester police made an arrest at a street party. Another incident remembered in the African-American community here is the fatal shooting of a 100-pound black woman, Denise Hawkins, by police 35 years ago.

Without question, significant improvement in police-community relations has been made in recent decades, such as the appointment of three African-American police chiefs. And most recently, Michael Ciminelli, the newest chief, has followed his predecessors in making “community policing,” which involves officers forming closer ties with city residents, a priority. Not only is he focusing on improved police training and getting more officers out of patrol cars and onto the streets, but he promises to personally walk neighborhoods with organized groups.

Ciminelli also plans to make available to the public police demonstrations like the one recently given the Editorial Board of forceful tactics used by officers when a suspect resists arrest.

Meantime, the Unite Rochester and Facing Race = Embracing Equity initiatives are busy working on new strategies to bolster citizen confidence in police. The Unite Rochester Justice Committee's plans include formation of a Crisis Response Team. The CRT, made up of respected community and law enforcement leaders, will seek to ensure that credible information is free-flowing to the public whenever a police incident arouses widespread citizen suspicions. There is also a plan to create a Citizen Court Academy that would educate residents about the local court system.

These are all sensible ways to help police finally be seen as the servants and protectors of all citizens they are meant to be. With cases like that of Eric Garner rekindling distrust, improvements are imperative.


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