Upcoming executions face scrutiny
State execution methods have drawn added scrutiny in recent months following botched lethal injections in Oklahoma and Ohio. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted the execution of a Missouri inmate who argued he was too sick to be put to death humanely, especially given the state's secrecy surrounding its lethal injection methods.
It's unclear what impact such scrutiny may have on the 32 states with capital punishment, including upcoming executions planned in Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
States have faced lethal injection drug shortages in recent years as manufacturers withdrew supplies in response to international protests. To solve the problem, they turned to new drugs and drug combinations as well as compounding pharmacies, which make the drugs without regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Some state officials have balked at releasing all the details of their new lethal injection procedures, citing privacy concerns. That has led to lawsuits by inmates and advocates, who complain that recent changes in lethal injection procedures call for more public scrutiny of the process. Here's a look at upcoming executions tracked by the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, including three scheduled for the same day in June.
Marcus Wellons, 59: Executed June 17 in Georgia
Wellons was sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and murder of 15-year-old India Roberts. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene late on the day of his scheduled lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. He died by lethal injection shortly before midnight.
Photo credit: Georgia Department of Law Enforcement / Associated Press
John Winfield, 46: Executed June 18 in Missouri
Winfield was convicted of fatally shooting two women, and of shooting and blinding his ex-girlfriend during a confrontation in a St. Louis suburb in 1996.
His death warrant was issued in May and he was executed shortly after midnight on June 18 after his last minute appeals failed.
Until the botched execution in Oklahoma, Missouri had been carrying out an execution each month since November .
In at least one case, an inmate was executed with an appeal still pending. Convicted murderer Herbert Smulls, 56, was executed Jan. 29, shortly before his final appeal was denied.
The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed Missouri’s execution of rapist and murderer Russell Bucklew, 45, in May pending consideration of his case by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Bucklew’s attorneys had argued that he suffers from a chronic condition that causes tumors which could burst and bleed during lethal injection or interfere with the drugs. That would cause a prolonged and painful death, they argued, in violation of the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
One of Bucklew’s attorneys told The Times she also feared a repeat of the botched execution in Oklahoma last month. After convicted rapist and murderer Clayton Lockett, 38, was given a new three-drug lethal injection April 29, he writhed and made sounds, then took 43 minutes to die, a witness told The Times. Oklahoma’s governor, facing a backlash, halted the next scheduled execution pending a review of state procedures.
Oklahoma had already seen another recent botched execution. As convicted murderer Michael Wilson, 38, was executed Jan. 9, he complained, “I feel my whole body burning.”
Missouri’s attorney general has insisted officials there can manage executions humanely, as has Gov. Jay Nixon, who denied Bucklew clemency.
It’s not clear how soon Bucklew’s case could be reconsidered by the lower court. While his execution is stayed, it is also unclear what effect the case may have on Winfield and other condemned Missouri inmates.
Photo credit: Missouri Department of Corrections
Lewis Jordan, 27: Scheduled for execution June 18 in Pennsylvania
Jordan was convicted of murder in the fatal 2007 shooting of a Philadelphia police officer, a 25-year veteran. Jordan confessed to shooting the 54-year-old officer in the head when he walked in as Jordan was robbing a Dunkin Donuts.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, a Philadelphia native and former prosecutor, signed Jordan’s execution warrant in April, setting the date of June 18. But experts predicted that it would probably be delayed.
Jordan has state appeals pending, and his execution is likely to be stayed as those work their way through the courts, according to staff at the Death Penalty Information Center. The three executions in Pennsylvania since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 have all been inmates who waived some of their appeals, expediting the process. The last execution was in 1999. Since then, the state has issued more than 200 death warrants.
Photo credit: John Costello / Philadelphia Inquirer
John Henry, 63: Scheduled for execution June 19 in Florida
Three days after the botched execution in Oklahoma, Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, signed Henry’s death warrant.
Henry was convicted of fatally stabbing his estranged wife and her 5-year-old son with a kitchen knife after an argument in 1985.
He received a death sentence for each murder; it is the sentence for his wife’s murder that is scheduled to be carried out next month. He was previously convicted in 1975 of fatally stabbing his first wife. He had been out of prison for three years when he committed the other two murders.
A report by the Constitution Project, a nonprofit, bipartisan think tank based in Washington, recommended that Florida and other states scrap the three-drug lethal injection cocktail that resulted in the botched execution in Oklahoma and switch to a single drug instead.
Last year, Florida began using midazolam hydrochloride in its triple-drug lethal injection instead of the more scarce pentobarbital sodium. Midazolam, the first of three injections, renders the inmate unconscious.
Florida and Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols are now almost identical, but the quantities of the drugs are different, with Florida using 500 milligrams of midazolam while Oklahoma’s protocol calls for 100 milligrams.
Scott’s administration has said the state has no plans to change its procedure.
Photo credit: Florida Department of Corrections
Ronald Phillips, 40: Scheduled for execution July 2 in Ohio
Phillips was sentenced to death for raping and killing the 3-year-old daughter of his girlfriend in Akron, Ohio, in 1993. Republican Gov. John R. Kasich delayed his execution last fall, after Phillips offered to donate some of his organs to the public and ailing relatives.
An Ohio Department of Corrections spokeswoman told The Times this week that Phillips’ execution was still scheduled, unless the governor says otherwise.
The governor postponed the last execution from March to November, citing an ongoing review of its lethal injection procedures following the state’s botched execution of Dennis McGuire, 54, on Jan. 16.
That execution was carried out with a new mix of drugs: midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. The state switched from the single drug pentobarbital due to shortages.
McGuire had been sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and murder of a pregnant woman, 22, in southwestern Ohio.
Witnesses said that after his lethal injection Jan. 16, McGuire gasped, writhed and snorted, taking 25 minutes to die. McGuire’s relatives, some of whom witnessed the execution, have since filed a federal lawsuit against the state and the drug’s manufacturer, alleging the execution was cruel and unusual punishment.
Last month, prison officials announced that a review of the McGuire execution showed he did not suffer cruel and unusual punishment, but that they would increase the dosage of the lethal injection next time.
In the wake of controversy surrounding McGuire’s death, attorneys for the next inmate due to be executed on March 19 successfully appealed to delay it, arguing they needed time to argue that the state’s lethal injection system is unconstitutional because it could result in a lingering death.
That inmate, Gregory Lott, 52, was convicted of murdering an 82-year-old man in East Cleveland in 1986 by setting him on fire.
It’s not clear whether Phillips’ execution or another scheduled in August could be delayed for similar reasons.
Photo credit: Ohio Department of Corrections
Manuel Vasquez, 45: Scheduled for execution Aug. 6 in Texas
Vasquez was sentenced to die for strangling to death a 51-year-old woman in San Antonio in 1998 in a hit ordered by the Mexican Mafia because the woman refused to pay the gang.
Two years ago, Texas switched from a three-drug lethal injection similar to Oklahoma’s to the single drug pentobarbital. The state gets it from a compounding pharmacy it has refused to identify.
Texas lies at the heart of the “Death Belt” of Southern states with capital punishment, and has executed the most prisoners of the 32 states with capital punishment.
But earlier this month, a Texas federal appeals court stayed the execution of Robert Campbell, 41, who had been convicted in connection with the rape, robbery and fatal shooting of a 20-year-old Houston bank clerk in 1991.
Campbell’s attorneys had argued that Texas should be compelled to disclose details of its lethal injection procedure before the execution. But the court did not stay Campbell’s death based on that. Instead, the stay was made pending examination of the attorneys’ arguments that Campbell’s intellectual disability rendered him ineligible for execution.
Photo credit: Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Top photo: Associated Press