"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." Oscar Wilde

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Ohio looks overseas in search for lethal drugs

Ohio has explored overseas options in its search for lethal injection drugs no longer available in the U.S. despite a court ruling that banned such purchases, records show.

The prison where Ohio carries out executions successfully applied for an import license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration late last year in its search for lethal injection drugs, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request. The license expires at the end of February next year.

"Law enforcement purpose," Richard Theodore, prisons agency policy adviser, said on a DEA questionnaire in November, prompted for the reason for applying.

The state declined to comment directly on the license, saying only it was still looking for lethal drugs.

"Ohio continues to seek the drugs necessary to carry out court ordered executions. This process has included pursuing multiple options," JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in an email.

In May, Nebraska's governor confirmed the state had obtained sodium thiopental from India. But two weeks later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the state cannot legally import a drug needed to carry out lethal injection.

2 years ago, in a case brought by death row inmates in Tennessee, Arizona and California, a federal appeals court ruled the FDA was wrong to allow sodium thiopental to be imported for use in executions.

Asked about Ohio's license, the FDA says it's seen no evidence besides news reports that sodium thiopental has been imported into the U.S. recently by state prison systems.

"With very limited exceptions, which do not apply here, it is unlawful to import this drug and FDA would refuse its admission into the United States," spokesman Jeff Ventura said in an email.

While the DEA can approve an entity's request for an import license, a separate process starts when the entity actually tries to bring the drug in, said Patrick Rodenbush, a Justice Department spokesman. Smith, of the prisons agency, declined to comment on the FDA ban.

In Ohio, the drugs are needed to restart executions in the state, which hasn't put an inmate to death since January 2014. As in many states, Ohio's traditional supply of injection drugs dried up as companies began putting them off-limits for executions after decades of more or less unrestricted use in capital punishment.

No executions are scheduled in Ohio this year. The state ditched its previous 2-drug combo following a troubling 2014 execution that lasted 26 minutes and left the inmate gasping and snorting.

Executions are scheduled to resume in early 2016, with 21 execution dates set over the next 4 years.

Ohio's current policy calls for single doses of either sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, both powerful sedatives. In its DEA application, the prisons agency said it wants to import both ready-to-use supplies of sodium thiopental as well as bulk supplies, meaning it might try to have the drug compounded into a usable form.

Compounded drugs are small, specially mixed batches of drugs that are not subject to the same federal scrutiny as regular doses of the drugs.

Ohio updated its execution rules this week to require the testing of compounded drugs before their use.

It's unclear from where Ohio hopes to obtain drugs. Other states, including Nebraska, have turned to a manufacturer in India, according to documents obtained from the Nebraska prisons department by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I presently have a batch being manufactured for 2 states that have placed an order" for sodium thiopental, Chris Harris, the CEO of West Bengal, India-based Harris Pharma, told the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services in an April 15 email. Harris was checking to see if Nebraska wanted to place an order as well. He did not return an email seeking comment.

Smith said the Ohio prisons agency has not communicated with Harris Pharma.

In Nebraska, the issue is temporarily moot: On May 28, Nebraska lawmakers abolished the death penalty over the governor's objections. Death penalty supporters are looking at ways to reinstate the law.

Source: Associated Press, July 3, 2015

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Christian pastors to face trial in Sudan, lawyer arrested

Yat Michael (left), Peter Yen Reith (right) Photo: Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Yat Michael (left), Peter Yen Reith (right)
Two South Sudanese pastors in Sudan will face trial for espionage and their lawyer has been arrested.

A judge ruled on July 2 that Rev Yat Michael and Rev David Yein Reith's trial will continue, meaning that they could face the death penalty or life imprisonment if found guilty. A day earlier, July 1, their chief counsel - Mohaned Mustafa - was also arrested, along with Pastor Hafez of the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church where Michael spoke out against the persecution of Christians in Sudan.

According to the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the church is involved in an ongoing land dispute with the government, and Hafez and Mustafa are accused of obstructing a public servant during the course of his duty. They have been released on bail, but will face trial in court.

Michael was arrested on 14 December 2014, and Reith in January of this year. They were both detained without charges, and without access to a lawyer or their families, until March 1. They are now being held on six charges including espionage, "offending Islamic beliefs" and undermining the constitutional system.

The men maintain they have not committed any crime. Michael recently told CBN news from his prison cell that he didn't know why he had been arrested: "We just go to to out ministry training in our church".

Their next hearing has been scheduled for July 14, and Mustafa will only be allowed about 15 minutes with his clients to brief them ahead of the meeting. "Sudanese law grants sole discretion for visitation rights at the prison to the prison directorate, who in this case has previously denied requests for access," said the ACLJ.

The pastors have also been denied regular visits from relatives, which is illegal under the Sudanese constitution. "This is meant to put more psychological pressures and warfare on the arrested pastors," a legal representative told World Watch Monitor.

"The serious criminal charges against Michael and Yen have been levied solely on the basis of their religious convictions and outspoken criticism of the ruling party, and as such, that their continued detention and criminal proceedings are discriminatory and in violation of constitutional and international legal guarantees of equality," a statement from the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said.

"There is also speculation that the trial of the two men is intended to send a message to other Christian leaders in Sudan to refrain from criticising the treatment of Christian minorities in Sudan and the policies of the ruling party".

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide said, "We are disappointed to learn that the judge has decided to uphold the extreme and unwarranted charges against Rev Michael and Rev Reith. We continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release. The ongoing restrictions on their legal and family visits are not only distressing for the pastors and their families, but also constitute yet another hurdle for their legal team to overcome and a violation of fair trial principles, as articulated by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a party.

"Moreover, the harassment and assault on Pastor Hafez is wholly unacceptable, and typifies an ongoing, discriminatory policy targeting religious and ethnic minorities that is officially sanctioned. The international community, and in particular the African Union, must impress upon Sudan its obligation to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief and the right to a fair trial."

Source: Christian Today, Carey Lodge, July 4, 2015

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As support for death penalty decreases nationally, where does Alabama stand?

Yellow Mama: Alabama's disused electric chair
Yellow Mama: Alabama's disused electric chair
When Nebraska abolished the death penalty in May, was that change inspired by the state's unique circumstances, or is it a harbinger of the tide turning in other conservative states?

The decision prompted a flurry of speculation that other states will follow suit and death penalty opponents will continue to gain ground.

In a Time magazine cover story heralding the end of the era of capital punishment, author David Von Drehle wrote that "... prosecutors, judges and jurors are concluding that the modern death penalty is a failed experiment."

The Washington Post described Nebraska's vote as 1 victory in a much larger war - "part of a little-covered and slow-moving strategy to abolish the death penalty nationwide."

In 2014, the number of executions hit a 20-year low, and only 72 new death sentences were imposed across the country, according to the DPIC.

Nebraska's move is a significant step in a nationwide shift away from capital punishment, as polls show waning public support, said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"What happened in Nebraska is, in many respects, a microcosm of what's going on in the United States," Dunham said. "There has been, for a long time, a solid core of people who have been opposed to the death penalty on moral grounds and a variety of other grounds, like innocence and race discrimination."

'I don't see it leaving the South soon'

Nebraska's political climate is fundamentally different from that of Alabama, which incarcerates the most death row inmates per capita and, with 198 inmates, the fourth-most in the nation by sheer numbers.

In Nebraska, 11 inmates were on death row in May. The state had executed just 3 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and the last was carried out nearly 2 decades ago.

Alabama, meanwhile, has executed 51 people since 1983 and carried out its most recent execution in July 2013. Executions were on hold for months in several states as officials awaited a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in a case out of Oklahoma.

On Monday, the court ruled that the lethal injection drug combination used to kill the condemned is not cruel and unusual punishment. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange appeared ready to resume executions after months of delays.

Alabama's death penalty statute covers a broader range of homicides than other states' laws, and prosecutors seek it more aggressively. Alabama also is one of just a few states that allow a judge to override a jury's sentencing recommendation. That power usually serves to override a life sentence and impose death.

Kathryn Morgan, an associate professor at UAB, is researching the application of the death penalty in Alabama and across the country. Alabama's criminal justice relies enough on the death penalty that Morgan doesn't see the state's stance changing.

"It's a Southern subculture of violence that will not allow us to end the practice anytime soon," she said.

"If you look at the history of the South, it has been fraught with violence. I don't see it leaving Alabama soon, and I don't see it leaving the South soon."

In Alabama, Morgan says, the application of the death penalty raises the issue of discrimination based on race and class. Black offenders have been executed disproportionately since it was reinstated in 1976, and many of the inmates currently on death row couldn't afford qualified counsel.

"When the Supreme Court abolished it in the '70s, it was an opportunity for states to establish guidelines so it would not be applied in a discriminatory manner, but nothing has changed," Morgan said. "We still have the same kind of discriminatory application of the death penalty. It's about race. It's about money. As long as those things matter, we're going to have a problem with implementing the death penalty."

Shifting public opinion nationwide

In the most recent Pew Research studies, about 60 % of Americans said they supported the death penalty, down from 80 % in the 1990s.

Exonerations, like that of Anthony Ray Hinton in Alabama this year, have played a huge role in influencing public opinion, Dunham said.

Since the start of 2014, 11 death row inmates in eight states, including Texas, Florida and Mississippi, have been exonerated, according to the DPIC's records. Those exonerations have changed the nature of the death penalty discussion, as they raise issues of prosecutorial misconduct, errors in testimony and the use of investigative techniques and analysis later deemed junk science.

"Both innocence and [prosecutorial] misconduct are significant because the ultimate concern for many people is that they don't want to execute somebody who's innocent," Dunham said. "There are a lot of things that have happened recently that suggest that that is an inevitability when you have the death penalty."

"For many years, the death penalty was being looked at dogmatically rather than pragmatically." - Robert Dunham

Conservatives have begun discussing the "unacceptable probability" of executing innocent people, which goes against their traditional values, Dunham said.

Another practical issue to take into account is the economics of capital punishment.

Before the recession, states were effectively handed a blank check to pursue the death penalty. As money grew tighter and budgets were crunched, politicians have reevaluated policies through an economic lens. The death penalty, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per case to pursue and implement, is no exception.

"For conservatives, the nature of the discussion has changed," he said. "For many years, the death penalty was being looked at dogmatically rather than pragmatically."

Alabama lawmakers are still strongly in support of the death penalty, a stance most say is a reflection of the voters who elected them.

State Sen. Hank Sanders and state Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans have each introduced bills implementing a moratorium, but their proposed legislation has garnered little support.

In June, Miriam Shehane, who founded Victims of Crime and Leniency after three men raped and murdered her daughter in 1976, told AL.com that the death penalty offers the only final closure for relatives of murder victims.

Morgan, the UAB researcher, said she doesn't think diminishing support for the death penalty demonstrated in national polls has spread to Alabama yet.

"I think we're moving slowly in that direction, and some states are slower than others," she said. "Religious fundamentalism, conservatism, prejudice is still alive and well. Many criminologists argue that, because of the continued presence of those things, the death penalty will continue to be supported overall."

Which state is next?

The signs that a state might abolish the death penalty arise years before it happens. Prosecutors seek the death penalty less frequently. It is imposed less, and fewer executions are carried out.

In the states that have ended capital punishment, "the death penalty had begun to die through disuse before it was abolished by law," Dunham said.

Nebraska, the 19th state to abolish the death penalty, was the first predominantly Republican state to do so since North Dakota in 1973. Other states, like New Hampshire and Montana, have come close.

"Nebraska was the breakthrough, the state in which there was vocal and visible bipartisan support for abolition," Dunham said.

Politically, it's hardly a surprise that Alabama isn't among the states experts expect to abolish the death penalty anytime soon.

Based on recent trends, the most likely candidates are Kentucky, where three people have been executed since 1976, and Kansas, which hasn't had an execution since 1965.

Dunham says we're likely to see renewed and reinvigorated bipartisan efforts to end the death penalty across the country. Ultimately, the issue will probably be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Nebraska's decision gives both opponents and supporters of the death penalty an idea of what could come next.

"It is not an indication that the tide is turning," Dunham said. "I think it's an indication that the tide may already have turned. You are seeing conservatives expressing their opposition to the death penalty more openly. You're seeing conservatives talking to each other about the issue, when, in years past, there was an unspoken assumption that political conservatives automatically supported the death penalty."

Source: al.com, July 2, 2015

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Back on the Agenda: Nebraska's Death Penalty

A grassroots effort aims to restore what the legislature just ended.

At the front counter of Dinkel Implement Co., a farm equipment dealer in Norfolk, Neb., there is a sheet of paper that voters can sign to bring the death penalty up for a public vote in their state. There is a similar petition at Allied Securities, a car insurance agency, and starting next week, a storefront in Norfolk will be open from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. every day, with the sole purpose of collecting signatures. "People coming in seem to be passionate about it," says John M. Dinkel, co-owner of the farm equipment store. "Most people are thankful, and they exercise their constitutional right" and sign the petition.

In May, the Nebraska Legislature voted to repeal capital punishment. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the repeal, and the legislature overrode the veto by a single vote. Opponents of the death penalty celebrated this unprecedented moment - the end of the death penalty in a conservative state - and saw it as an indication of how conservatives have turned against the punishment.

But since the vote, supporters of the death penalty have been scrambling and have a serious shot at overriding the override of the veto. A group called Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has opened offices in Omaha and Lincoln. They are aiming to collect 57,000 signatures, or 5 % of the state's voters, by the end of August in order to put the question on a ballot next year. If they get twice as many signatures, the repeal will be officially halted, and prosecutors will be able to keep pursuing death sentences.

On a well-trafficked Facebook page, they are announcing where Nebraska voters can sign the petition (jewelry stores, courthouses, car dealerships, DMV offices) and posting pictures of men and women approaching strangers to get their signatures on street corners and in mall parking lots. The organization is seeking volunteers to go door-to-door and run phone banks.

Though these efforts are grassroots, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty have well-heeled help. Financial records released last week show Ricketts donated $100,000 to the campaign, while his father, Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, donated the same amount. (The family also owns the Chicago Cubs). The anti-death penalty community is also fundraising.

Much of this is symbolic; Nebraska last carried out an execution in 1997, and is facing a shortage of lethal injection drugs that would slow efforts to carry out another one anytime soon. There are 10 men on the state's death row.

But the success or failure of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty will be a barometer of how deep American support for the death penalty goes. For years, polls have shown that capital punishment is dipping in popularity, though it remains above 50 % (the latest Pew Research Center poll found 56 % of Americans still support executing murderers).

That support has not been seriously tested lately. In the 1970s, when capital punishment was struck down and then reinstated by the Supreme Court, newspaper editorials and public rallies on both sides of the issue were common. Since then, with the death penalty in regular use, supporters have become a silent majority, with the exception of a few pro-death penalty message boards featuring vitriolic rants against murderers on death row.

Now that the death penalty is being challenged, grassroots support for the punishment is becoming visible, in the form of bright green T-shirts that read "Support Death Penalty" and "Sign Petition Here!" Some of those organizing in Nebraska are family members of murder victims, like Vivian Tuttle, who is being featured in local press and whose daughter was shot during a 2002 bank robbery in Norfolk ("I believe in justice," she told the Holt County News).

Some citizens without a specific stake in capital punishment - as well as newspaper editorials - are framing their support in terms of democracy. "I feel that the citizens have a right to vote on it," Ron Stauffer, who opened the storefront in Norfolk, told me. "If the death penalty is voted out by the people that is fine with me." Stauffer said that the state's lawmakers had voted against capital punishment based on "their own convictions," which, he said, "is not what they are there for."

Source: themarshallproject.org, July 3, 2015

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How states are responding to the Supreme Court's lethal injection decision

Florida's Death Chamber
Florida's Death Chamber
The country's patchwork, disjointed series of execution protocols does not appear likely to be changing any time soon, even with a Supreme Court ruling this week saying that Oklahoma can use the sedative midazolam in lethal injections.

In the days that followed the ruling, despite an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs, there did not appear to be a rush on the part of states to adopt midazolam, a controversial drug that has been used in troubling executions. This is not terribly surprising, as experts said after the decision that it wasn't as if the Supreme Court urged every state to use the drug.

"I don't think a lot of states are going to jump toward midazolam just because the Supreme Court said it's permissible," said Richard Dieter, a senior program director at the Death Penalty Information Center. "Its risks are apparent."

As a result, rather than providing a clear path forward for the dwindling number of states that still carry out executions or hope to do so, the ruling instead suggested that states could retain leeway in how they can execute inmates. Instead of providing a framework for carrying out executions, the majority opinion says that the status quo - a fractured system with new protocols, different drug combinations and widely varying backup options - will remain intact for now.

Some states, looking at the drug shortage across the country, have chosen to adopt or expand other options, like Utah and the firing squad, Oklahoma and nitrogen gas and Tennessee and the electric chair. Other states, though, have made different changes in recent months and appear to be sticking with those plans.

Take Ohio. While that state was the first in the country to use the controversial sedative as part of a two-drug protocol, pairing it with the narcotic hydromorphone for an execution last year, it didn't stay in the midazolam business for very long. In January 2014, Ohio's execution of Dennis McGuire - who admitted to raping and murdering a pregnant newlywed named Joy Stewart - lasted for nearly 25 minutes, as McGuire struggled, gasped and choked. Ohio has not carried out any executions since then, and earlier this year the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said it was dropping midazolam and hydromorphone. A few weeks later, officials said that they were delaying every execution scheduled for 2015 to let them get new drugs and adopt the new protocol.

Now that the Supreme Court has said states can use midazolam, that opens up the question of whether Ohio will once again turn to that sedative.

"Midazolam is not currently part of Ohio's execution policy and I will not speculate on what drugs may be used in the future," a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction wrote in an e-mail.

Still, the state did make some changes to its execution policies this week. On Monday, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction updated its guidelines for executing inmates. The policy, as was first noted by the Associated Press, now says that the state will test any compounded execution drugs it plans to use and could also test any other execution drugs.

Ohio's next execution is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2016. This means there will be 2 years between executions, which doesn't sound like a lot, but Ohio is one of the most active death-penalty states in the modern era. Between 2001 and 2014, the state executed at least 1 person each year. There are currently 21 executions scheduled in the state between January 2016 and May 2019.

The next 2 executions in the country are scheduled to take place later this month in Missouri and Texas. Missouri says it plans to carry out an execution July 14 using pentobarbital, while Texas says it hopes to execute an inmate 2 days later with the same drug.

In Texas, where there are 6 executions scheduled between July and October, officials with the Department of Criminal Justice say they have enough pentobarbital to carry out those scheduled executions. The drug shortage's impact has been felt in the country's most active death penalty state, though, as Texas officials say they almost ran out of the drugs this year before obtaining a new batch.

Still other states that use or plan to use midazolam say they want to move ahead. Virginia corrections officials say that state has midazolam on hand, but they add that the state has no executions scheduled. Its supply of the drug expires later this year.

Authorities in Oklahoma, where the Supreme Court case originated, said they wanted to reschedule executions postponed by the court's decision to hear the challenge to their policies. The Alabama attorney general said he believed it meant his state, which wants to use midazolam, could resume executions. In Florida, the state that has used midazolam more often than any other - and a state that has the same execution protocol as Oklahoma - is also calling to resume executions, which were halted there after the Supreme Court took the Oklahoma case.

The state's attorney general has asked the Florida Supreme Court to lift a stay of execution it put into place while awaiting the higher court's decision. The court has not lifted the stay so far, but if it does, that would clear the way for executions to resume in Florida as well. Florida, like Oklahoma, has not carried out an execution since January, when the Supreme Court said it would hear a challenge to the Oklahoma protocol.

Source: The Washington Post, July 3, 2015

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Tennessee's top court denies death row challenge to execution by electrocution

NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Supreme Court today turned down a challenge by state death row inmates to the use of electrocution has an alternative executive method, calling it premature and "unripe" for consideration.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Connie Clark says that "because the death-sentenced inmates are not currently subject to execution by electrocution and will not ever become subject to execution by electrocution unless one of two statutory contingencies occurs in the future, their claims challenging the constitutionality of the 2014 statute and electrocution as a means of execution are not ripe."

The court reversed a Davidson County Chancery Court judge's decision which denied the state's motion to dismiss and dismissed the "electrocution claims as unripe, and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision."

State lawmakers passed the 2014 law in response to efforts by death row inmates' attorneys to challenge Tennessee's use of lethal injections to execute convicted murderers.

Source: Times Free Press, Andy Sher, July 2, 2015

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Friday, July 3, 2015

China: Lawmakers Considering Harsher Punishment for Human Trafficker

Chinese children rescued from child traffickers
Chinese children rescued from child traffickers
China's top lawmakers are considering tougher punishments for all parties involved in human trafficking, including those who buy abducted children.

The 9th draft amendment to the Criminal Law was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress earlier this week.

It comes amid continuing discussions on China's social media outlets about whether or not child traffickers should be sentenced to death.

The amendment advocates "light punishment" for buyers who don't harm abducted children or hinder police rescue of the victimized children.

At present, such buyers would likely be exempt from punishment.

He Youlin, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, says this indeed gives a free reign to the act of children trafficking.

"Those who buy children can get lesser punishment or even an exemption only because they don't ill-treat the abducted children or appear cooperative in rescue operations. But will it embolden those possible buyers? We should take it seriously."

Child trafficking has been rampant for a long time in rural China, especially in poverty-stricken southwestern regions. Some pregnant women have been found to have sold their own children.

The traditional preference of boys over girls, especially in the countryside, has also been blamed for boosting the trade.

Some rural residents who don't have a boy would like to buy one, which many law experts say fuels demand.

Jiang Zhuangde is also taking part in the discussion of the amendment. He backs harsher punishments for child buyers.

"The effort to crack down on child buyers is obviously not enough. The current penalties are too light to deter the offenders. The huge demand is another major reason why child trafficking becomes rampant. Those who buy children should face criminal penalties or harsher punishment at least."

According to the Supreme People's Court, nearly 13,000 people involved in trafficking were punished between 2010 and 2014 with over 1/2 receiving sentences ranging from at least 5 years in prison to the death penalty.

Under the current law, child traffickers can be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison. If more than 3 victims are involved or if there are casualties, the punishments can rise to life in prison or death.

A recent poll on Sina.com showed over 92 % of the more than 21,000 respondents recommended that the same punishment imposed on child traffickers should also be applied to buyers.

Source: CRI.English, July 2, 2015

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Intellectually-disabled Australian could face death penalty in China

Ibrahim Jalloh at Guangzhou Intermediate Court
Ibrahim Jalloh at Guangzhou Intermediate Court
Guangzhou: An intellectually-disabled Australian man detained in China for more than a year could face the death penalty after being charged with smuggling more than two kilograms of the drug crystal methamphetamine.

Lawyers acting for 26-year-old Ibrahim Jalloh say he was tricked into becoming an unwitting drug mule by members of an international syndicate who preyed on his naivety.

The man named in the Chinese court as the main instigator became friends with Mr Jalloh through casual soccer games and eventually convinced him to travel to Guangzhou to bring back "important documents" in return for $15,000 last June.

Mr Jalloh, who was born in war-torn Sierra Leone before moving with his family to Australia when he was 17, was arrested at Guangzhou's international airport attempting to board a flight back to Brisbane via Singapore. He said he had not checked the contents of the suitcase he was given in Guangzhou because it was locked and he wasn't given a key.

"[name withheld] just told me it was some important documents," Mr Jalloh said. "He never told me it was drugs inside. If it was drugs, I cannot [sic] leave Australia to do this."

The man is facing separate charges in Australia on conspiracy to import drugs from China. He is alleged to have sent another Australian drug mule jailed in Guangzhou, Queensland man Bengali Sherrif.

Mr Sherrif was arrested in similar circumstances to Mr Jalloh just days apart, and is awaiting the outcome of an appeal of his suspended death sentence.

Mr Jalloh receives a full disability pension in Australia and his lawyers produced two independent medical opinions from Australian doctors attesting to the fact that his intellectual disability hampered his judgement and made him easy to manipulate.

Mr Jalloh is one of several Australians on serious drug charges in Guangzhou who say they have been set up by international drug syndicates operating out of the southern metropolis – a major regional drug hub which has become Australia's largest source of methamphetamine in recent years.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Philip Wen, July 3, 2015

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Roman Coliseum honors Nebraska's repeal of death penalty

Italians celebrated Nebraska abolishing the death penalty Wednesday by lighting up the Coliseum in Rome.
Italians celebrated Nebraska abolishing the death penalty
Wednesday by lighting up the Coliseum in Rome.
The Roman Coliseum, a popular tourist attraction and long ago a site of executions, gladiator contests and spectacles of death, lit up Wednesday night to honor Nebraska's repeal of the death penalty.

The amphitheater in the center of Rome, now a symbol of faith communities in the campaign against capital punishment, was lit as a testimony to a justice system capable of respecting human life and dignity, said Mario Marazziti, president of the Human Rights Committee of the Italian Parliament.

The sudden bathing of the Coliseum in white light -- after a period of complete darkness -- was coordinated by the Catholic lay community Sant'egidio, which has lit the coliseum after each of seven state legislatures repealed the death penalty, said Mona Cadena of Equal Justice USA. It also is lit after countries abolish the death penalty.

Before Nebraska, the Coliseum was lit to honor Maryland's repeal in 2013.

The Community of Sant'egidio advocates ending the death penalty worldwide.

"The death penalty system is broken, can never be perfect, and it always lowers civil society and the state at the level of the killer, creating new victims," Marazziti said in a news release. 

It is hoping for participation this year from a Nebraska delegation, including a bishop and people who fought and campaigned for the repeal, said Carlo Santoro, with the Sant'egidio community.

And they are hoping Gov. Pete Ricketts might change his mind about trying to stop the repeal, and accept that in Nebraska there would be no more executions, he said. 

Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts, have contributed the bulk of money, so far, to the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty referendum campaign, which is collecting signatures to stop the repeal from going into effect and force a general election vote on the issue.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, Joanne Young, July 2, 2015

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Oklahoma Death Row Inmate Richard Glossip Maintains Innocence As Execution Looms

Richard Glossip
Richard Glossip
A U.S. Supreme Court decision means Oklahoma will soon start executing death row inmates again. The next prisoner scheduled to die is Richard Glossip.

Glossip was 1 day away from being executed when the Supreme court issued a stay to consider the constitutionality of a drug the state uses for lethal injection.

Tuesday, Glossip said he is disappointed in the decision but hasn't given up hope.

Sitting on death row, the countdown back on to his execution. Richard Glossip remains adamant in his innocence.

"There's a chance I'm going to be executed for something I didn't do and I want people to know that," he said.

He spoke to News 9 from the home of his niece who has stood by his side for the past 18 years.

"We are going to fight all the way until the end and then some," said BJ Boyiddle.

Glossip was convicted of hiring Justin Sneed to kill his boss Barry Van Treese in 1997. There was no physical evidence linking Glossip to the crime.

The prosecution's case hinged on testimony from Sneed. Sneed accepted a plea deal in exchange. Glossip is still hoping Sneed will come forward and say he lied.

Sneed's daughter already wrote this letter to the state clemency board saying her father has been talking about recanting his original testimony.

"She wasn't about to let an innocent man die for something her dad did," Glossip said.

Glossip is also sending out a plea to Governor Mary Fallin to sit down with his attorneys and listen one last time to his case.

"If she decided what we're seeing doesn't change (anything) then leave it at that, but at least make the effort and sit down with these attorney," he said.

Glossip's attorneys say they are looking at all options. As Glossip is asking Oklahomans to stand up on his behalf.

"I just don't know how you go from doing everything right in your life to fighting for your life," he said.

A spokesperson for the Governor says the Governor Fallin cannot grant clemency she can only issue a 60 day stay.

Supporters of Richard Glossip have started an on-line petition. Right now it has about 40,000 signatures.

Source: news9.com, July 2, 2015

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Islamic State throws four gay men off building in Iraq

This is the eighth gay murder by Islamic extremists this week

Photos of four gay men killed by Islamic extremists have been exposed to the public.

The four victims were taken to the top of a high building barefoot, blindfolded, hands tied and terrified in the ISIS stronghold of Fallujah, Iraq.

Held by their ankles, they were dropped head-first.

While many murders conducted by ISIS are in front of a huge crowd, intended to force the public into being controlled by fear and coercion, this time they are absent.

Posted online by Islamic State media, this is the eighth known murder of a gay man by ISIS in the past seven days.

To ‘celebrate’ the US passing marriage equality, terrorists threw four gay men off a building in Raqqa, Syria on Friday (26 June)

Mocking the message of victory, they posted: ‘Executed 4 GAY people by throwing him from High building in front of the people #LoveWins #IS.’

Source: Gay Star News, Joe Morgan, July 2, 2015

Related articles:
- UN: Islamic State Committing Atrocities on an "Industrial Scale", June 24, 2015
- Iraq: Crowd gathers to watch ISIS murder three gay men, June 3, 2015

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European states continue to fund drug hangings as Iran executions spike

New analysis released today by NGO Iran Human Rights shows that over two thirds of the 570 people so far executed in Iran this year were sentenced to death on drugs charges.

The executions can be linked to funding for counter-narcotics programmes provided via the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funded by European states including France and Germany.

International human rights NGO Reprieve’s research shows that France has provided more than EUR 1 million to Iran’s Anti Narcotics Police (ANP) in recent years; while Germany contributed to a EUR 5 million UNODC project which provided the ANP with training and equipment.

The UNODC projects aim to increase the numbers of people arrested and convicted of drugs charges, but do not impose effective conditions to ensure that the financial support does not contribute to increased numbers of hangings. With Iran now executing at a historically high rate, and 69% of the executions this year so far having been for drugs offences, Reprieve is calling on the UNODC and its funders to act urgently to impose conditions on the support they provide.

A number of other European states, including the UK, Denmark and Ireland have already withdrawn funding from similar UNODC programmes in Iran, with the Danish Government accepting they are “leading to executions”. But France and Germany have declined to make similar commitments, and have not ruled out contributing to a secretive new UN funding settlement for Iran’s ANP.

The UNODC is currently negotiating this five-year agreement, and UNODC chief Yury Fedotov travelled to Iran in February this year to pledge that a deal would be finalised “in the next two months”. He added that “no country can compete with Iran when it comes to the amount of narcotics discovered and seized.”

Reprieve’s research by has found that at least EUR 15 million in European support can be directly linked to the arrests and hangings of thousands of people – including women, children, and a number of European nationals. In one 2014 case, a 15-year old Afghan boy, Jannat Mir, was hanged for allegedly moving heroin across the Afghan/Iranian border, during a period in which the UNODC was overseeing a 5 million EURO border operation.

The UNODC’s own human rights guidance advises that if executions for drug related offences continue, the body should “employ a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support”.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team said:

“Even as Iran’s execution rate skyrockets, European nations like France and Germany continue to fund brutal raids by the Iranian police which routinely send people to death row for non-violent offences. 7 out of 10 people hanged in Iran this year have been caught in these type of operations, but European funders and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime continue to turn a blind eye, and are even considering a new funding deal.

“It is an untenable hypocrisy for European countries and the UNODC to claim they oppose the death penalty in all circumstances while enabling and encouraging it overseas. If their commitments on the death penalty are to count for anything, they should impose effective and transparent conditions to ensure their aid does not lead to executions.”

Source: Reprieve, July 2, 2015

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Supreme Court decision on lethal injection process triggers movement in California's stalled executions

California's brand new death chamber
California's brand new death chamber
A Supreme Court decision upholding a controversial drug used in lethal injection executions in Oklahoma starts the clock for California to come up with its own injection procedures, thus increasing the chance executions could resume here.

The justices on Monday ruled 5-4 that the sedative midazolam, which was implicated in several botched executions and is the 1st of 3 drugs in Oklahoma's lethal injection cocktail, can be used without violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

State and federal court decisions have prevented California from using its 3-drug lethal injection protocol, contributing to a 9-year hiatus in executions. One was a federal judge's ruling that the state's 3-drug lethal injection protocol could result in excessive pain. But after families of homicide victims sued the state in November in an effort to end delays, prison officials agreed this month to submit proposed regulations for a new lethal injection procedure - a precursor to resuming executions - within 120 days of the Supreme Court decision.

"I very much doubt that (California corrections officials) would use midazolam, but whatever they adopt I think the Supreme Court has raised the bar for anyone wanting to challenge it" with this decision, said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which represented the families in the lawsuit.

However, Matt Cherry of Death Penalty Focus, which opposes capital punishment, said he doesn't think the Supreme Court decision in the Glossip v. Gross case will help or hinder California's procedures.

"I think you're talking about a very different protocol in California," Cherry said. "And I think that California would have its own standards and the court would have its own standards for what is cruel and unusual."

The state now has until Oct. 27 to come up with a new lethal injection protocol, Scheidegger said. Corrections officials say they have been developing regulations for a single-drug protocol but have yet to propose one, an effort they say has been complicated by a nationwide challenge in accessing drugs.

Despite the movement, executions are not expected to resume anytime soon. Before a final protocol can be adopted, there is a formal administrative process of notice and comment. The state must consider comments made about the draft regulations and revise them if it deems it necessary, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Once the protocol is established according to state law and adopted, it is expected to be legally challenged as past procedures have been, he said.

There are 751 condemned inmates in the state as of Monday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, but only 13 have been executed here, as well as 1 in Missouri. In contrast, 101 condemned inmates have died by other means: 67 of natural causes, 24 by suicide, 7 from incidents such as drug overdoses or homicide, and 3 deaths that have yet to be classified, according to the department. Regardless of the hiatus on executions, appeals in capital cases often take 2 decades before a decision is made.

Last year a federal judge ruled the state's death penalty system was unconstitutional, which if upheld could ultimately commute all death sentences to life in prison.

Source: Los Angeles Daily News, June 30, 2015

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Arizona death penalty unresolved after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of a controversial drug used in the lengthy execution of an Arizona inmate last year. But the ruling does not end the legal debate over capital punishment in the state.

The justices voted 5-4 on Monday in a case from Oklahoma that the sedative midazolam can be used in executions without violating the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Midazolam was 1 of 2 drugs used in the execution of convicted murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood in Arizona last summer.

Wood died after snorting and gasping for air for nearly 2 hours, raising questions about the drug combination.

Midazolam was used in executions in Ohio and Oklahoma in which the inmates gasped and writhed in pain before dying.

Wood's lengthy death put a halt to Arizona's executions and set the stage for other courtroom battles on the issue.


Wood was given 15 doses of midazolam and a painkiller and gasped over and over before taking his final breath nearly 2 hours later on July 23.

In November, a judge put on hold a lawsuit challenging the secrecy of execution protocols in Arizona pending the investigation of Wood's death.

The state also agreed to put on hold executions and to not seek any death warrants until the lawsuit is resolved. Once executions do resume, the state has said it will use a different drug combination and will only use midazolam if it cannot obtain the 2 other drugs, pentobarbital or sodium pentothal.

However, the state still refuses to say whether it has any execution drugs in supply, which kind, or whether it is actively seeking them.

Arizona has put 37 inmates to death since capital punishment resumed in 1992 and has about 120 inmates on death row.


Wood and 5 other death row inmates filed a lawsuit against Arizona last June. The inmates say they have a First Amendment right to know about specific execution protocols such as the types of drugs used in lethal injections and the companies that supply them.

The state, like many others, had refused to provide information about the drugs used in executions since 2010, around the time Arizona had to find new drugs and manufacturers after an Illinois-based pharmaceutical company stopped making the drug that had been used previously.

News organizations, including The Associated Press, have also filed a lawsuit seeking information about the drugs.


The state hired an independent firm to investigate the Wood execution amid claims it had been botched. But that firm found in December that the state had done nothing wrong and had followed proper protocols. The findings showed Wood was injected correctly but did not react to the drugs as expected. Still, the 3-member team recommended the changes to the drugs used, which the state agreed to.

Dale Baich, Wood's attorney, said the report failed to explain why the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised.

Source: Associated Press, June 30, 2015

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Anti-Death Penalty Activists Are Winning The Fundraising Battle In Nebraska

In May, the state abolished the death penalty. Now, the fundraising race is on between groups trying to put the death penalty up for a statewide vote - or keep it off the ballot.

After the Nebraska legislature successfully abolished the death penalty in the state, an expensive battle has begun to bring it back. But so far, the side against the death penalty is winning the fundraising battle.

The money is all about the potential for a statewide vote on the death penalty.

In May, the state's conservative legislature narrowly overruled Republican Gov. Pete Rickett's veto of the measure that abolished the death penalty. Ricketts vowed there would be a referendum to give voters the option to bring it back. Nebraskans for the Death Penalty will need to collect 57,000 signatures by August to get the vote on the ballot. If they can manage to collect 114,000 signatures, the death penalty will remain on the books until voters weigh in.

The group estimates that it would need to spend about $900,000 to do so. So far, though, the group has been outraised by an organization opposing the death penalty referendum, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty raised $259,744 - and more than 75% of that came from the governor's family. Ricketts and his father, the founder of TD Ameritrade, have given $200,000 to the group.

Another $10,000 was given to the pro-death penalty organization by an Omaha police union.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has spent almost all of the money it has currently raised in starting the signature collecting process. The group has $26,000 in cash remaining, but has $25,000 in unpaid legal and consulting bills.

On the other side, Nebraskans for Public Safety (an anti-death penalty group) has not yet filed its full campaign finance report as of Thursday evening. But the group has disclosed receiving a $400,000 contribution from a progressive organization called Proteus Action League. The group is a 501c(4), meaning it does not disclose its donors.

This isn't the 1st time Proteus Action League has spent money against the death penalty - the group spent more than $3.4 million on anti-death penalty efforts in 2012, according to an IRS filing.

The anti-death penalty group Nebraskans for Public Safety, which is affiliated with Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, has spent some of the money on television ads urging voters to not sign the petition.

Regardless of the outcome, Ricketts believes he will still be able to carry out the executions of the 10 men on death row. In pursuit of that, his Department of Correctional Services has spent more than $50,000 on execution drugs from a seller based in India.

Since the drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the federal government says it intends to detain the shipment when it arrives.

Source: buzzfeed.com, July 1, 2015

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1,400 North Koreans executed under Kim Jong-un from 2008 to 2014: report

Nearly 1,400 North Koreans were executed under the Kim Jong-un regime from 2008 to 2014, according to a report released by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), Wednesday.

The 455-page report, "White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2015," showed that 1,382 were killed during the period.

KINU said its findings were based on the testimony of 221 people who defected from North Korea to South Korea in 2014. It added the witnesses were chosen based on their social backgrounds and demographic characteristics.

"We believe there were a number of executions that were not witnessed by those whom we interviewed," an official at KINU's strategy and public relations team said on condition of anonymity.

The white paper showed that North Korea's state-perpetrated violations of human rights are still prevalent despite the United Nations' pressure to end its crimes against humanity.

In particular, the reclusive state increasingly has executed people in recent years for watching and circulating films, TV dramas and other media content produced by South Korea, the report said.

It pointed out that such a wide use of the death penalty contradicts Pyongyang's claim in a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council in January 2014.

Back then, the Stalinist country said it carried out the death penalty only under "extremely limited circumstances."

The KINU report showed people detained at a range of facilities such as prisons are tortured, while enduring a lack of nutrition, medical attention and hygiene.

It said people are exiled from their hometowns because of their family backgrounds, criminal record and the country's economic development plan.

Since late 2013, the natives of Samjiyon County, a northeastern part of the country, have been subject to internal exile if they and their family members served in prisons, were caught attempting to flee the country, or have parents who were peasants.

Samjiyon County, which is in Ryanggang Province, is purportedly the hometown of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The report said members of some 600 households in Musan, North Hamgyeong Province and surrounding regions were forcibly moved out of their hometowns in 2013 under Kim Jong-un's order to develop the area as "a model city."

The white paper is published in Korean. Its English version will be available in August. The KINU report has been published in both Korean and English every year since 1996.

The U.N. launched its human rights office in Seoul on June 23 to better monitor and record North Korea's human rights abuses. The office was set up in accordance with a U.N. Commission of Inquiry's (COI) report in February last year. It accused the tyrannical regime of running political prison camps where up to 120,000 people are thought to be detained.

Based on the COI report, the U.N. General Assembly in December 2014 passed a resolution that calls for the referral of Kim Jong-un to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, The Netherlands.

Source: Korea Times, July 1, 2015

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Last Words for the Death Penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court
Monday, the Supreme Court Justices delivered their oral opinion summaries in the Term's high-profile death penalty decision, Glossip v. Gross. Rather than reading from his concurring opinion or from a prepared statement, Justice Antonin Scalia -- still frazzled from release of the same-sex marriage cases -- appeared to be improvising. He accused Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of expressing personal "policy preferences," and added that the "2 justices are willing to kill the death penalty outright rather than just pecking it to death." Why the defensiveness and outrage?

Glossip was a 5-4 victory for death penalty states, which retained leeway to use new and untested lethal-injection "cocktails." Scalia was part of the majority but he sounded strangely like he was uttering last words. Justice Samuel Alito's presentation of the majority opinion was also unusually defensive and hostile to the dissenters. Justice Alito insists it is "settled that the death penalty is constitutional." In a career-defining dissent, Justice Breyer showed just how unsettled the American death penalty remains.

The precise legal question in Glossip was whether states could use midazolam as the anesthetic in a three-drug legal-injection cocktail. For years, states used sodium thiopental, until suppliers stopped selling it for use in executions. Many states turned to pentobarbital, which also became difficult to obtain. Oklahoma turned to midazolam, considered more of an anti-anxiety medication than an anesthetic. After several "botched" executions, the Supreme Court agreed to hear whether improvements to Oklahoma's cocktail -- including a 400 percent increase the midazolam dosage -- satisfied the Eighth Amendment. Holding that it did, the Court seemed to announce a rule that an execution could not be Cruel and Unusual under the Eighth Amendment unless there is a "known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain." Justice Sotomayor dissented, calling this a "surreal" endorsement of inhumane "human experimentation."

Justice Breyer did more. Joined by Justice Ginsburg, he wrote a dissent arguing that the death penalty is flat out unconstitutional, and he characteristically loaded his opinion with empirical data. In doing so, Breyer and Ginsburg joined the ranks of predecessors such as John Paul Stevens and Harry Blackmun who, in their later years on the Court, declared they no longer believed that there exists a constitutional way to administer capital sentences. In 1994, an 85 year-old Blackmun penned a memorable single-Justice dissent swearing off his participation in capital process: "From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." For Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, the death penalty cannot escape a dilemma's horns -- the procedural protections necessary to make the penalty reliable mean that the process takes so long that it no longer serves its retributive or deterrent purposes.

For the 1st time in recent memory, the threat sensed by death-penalty supporters is palpable. Capital sentencing and execution rates have been slowing considerably for a decade. Texas -- Texas -- has not sentenced a single person to death in 2015. Virginia, which executed the second highest number of prisoners in the modern death penalty era (since 1976), has not imposed a death sentence in over 2 years. Justice Breyer noted that seven states have abolished the death penalty in recent years, and that others have come to the brink of doing so. Justice Breyer described how even, in states such as Texas and Virginia that retain the death penalty, a small number of outlier counties still account for most capital sentences.

Public opinion has shifted dramatically. Justice Breyer notes that a majority of Americans would prefer to punish the worst of the worst by imposing life without parole over the death penalty. Innocence is playing a role. Cases with false confessions, lying informants, shoddy forensics and eyewitness misidentifications have led to a remarkable surge in exonerations, including over 140 from death row. Had the Court not ordered further hearings for exoneree Anthony Ray Hinton, he might have been wrongly executed because of flawed forensic evidence. Last year and after he spent 30 years on death row, DNA tests exonerated Henry Lee McCollum, whom Justice Scalia long used as the poster-child for why we need the death penalty. Yet the same proceedings that so often bring miscarriages of justice to light result in enormous delays in carrying out death sentences.

Whatever Glossip's formal holding, the body language of the Justices suggests that the death penalty is in a precarious position. The younger Justices appointed by Democratic presidents -- Sotomayor and Kagan -- did not join Justice Breyer's dissent, but the smart money is that they would vote with their senior colleagues if presented with the opportunity to strike the penalty down. With four likely votes to invalidate capital punishment, the fate of the institution may rest with Anthony Kennedy. That scenario cannot make the Court's conservative bloc comfortable, particularly after the last week. Meanwhile, in the court of public opinion and on the ground, the death penalty is clearly losing support as each year passes.

Source: Huffington Post, July 1, Brandon L. Garrett, Professor of Law, University of Virginia

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Oklahoma, Florida move quickly to resume lethal injections

Oklahoma and Florida moved quickly to resume lethal injections after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam, a sedative that has been used in several problematic executions.

Attorneys general in both states asked courts Monday to allow executions to proceed, just hours after the high court voted 5-4 in a case from Oklahoma that midazolam can be used in executions without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Prison officials in both states have said previously they were ready to proceed with executions if the use of midazolam were upheld, but neither would disclose Monday how many doses they have.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sent notice to the state Court of Criminal Appeals that Richard Eugene Glossip, John Marion Grant and Benjamin Robert Cole have exhausted their appeals and may be executed as early as Aug. 5.

"The families in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for justice," Pruitt said in a statement.

In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the state Supreme Court to lift the stay on the execution of Jerry Correll, who was convicted in the 1985 killing of4 people in Orlando. He had won a temporary reprieve while the high court was reviewing the Oklahoma case.

Florida has used midazolam in 11 executions with no apparent difficulties, but executions last year in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma took longer than usual and raised concerns that the drug did not perform its intended task of putting inmates into a coma-like sleep.

Execution protocols in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Virginia allow for midazolam, but those states have not used it.

Unlike other execution drugs that have become difficult for states to obtain because of opposition by manufacturers, mostly based in Europe, there are numerous manufacturers of midazolam. Several states, including Oklahoma, have had no problems obtaining the common surgical sedative, although one manufacturer, Illinois-based Akorn, announced in April it was taking steps to ensure midazolam is no longer made available to states for use in executions.

Oklahoma 1st used the drug last year in the execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, moaned and clenched his teeth for several minutes before prison officials tried to halt the process; he died 43 minutes after it was first injected. The state then increased by 5 times the amount of midazolam it uses and executed Charles Warner in January. He complained of a burning sensation but showed no other obvious signs of physical distress.

While the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the use of the drug, 2 dissenting justices - Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - said for the 1st time they think it's "highly likely" the death penalty itself is unconstitutional.

Justice Samuel Alito, in writing for the conservative majority, said arguments that the drug could not be used effectively in executions as a sedative were speculative.

He dismissed the problems in Arizona and Oklahoma's executions as "having little probative value for present purposes."

But Dale Baich, an attorney for the three Oklahoma inmates who challenged the use of midazolam, said litigation is certain to continue.

"If the system was working," he said, "we would not have these spectacles that are caused by different drug formulas and continuing experimentation."

Source: Associated Press, June 30, 2015

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