Deacon's Notes

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Hello everyone,

Earlier this week we relayed to you the news that Oklahoma has set new execution dates for the prisoners involved in the Supreme Court case Glossip v. Gross.  Yesterday the South Bend Tribune published an editorial yesterday commenting on that decision as it might affect future executions in Indiana.

The article makes a powerful argument that officials in our state “should take a pause on executions” pending a careful examination of the drugs we intend to use to kill condemned prisoners.  Of course, the best thing to do would be to repeal the death penalty entirely!

The text of the Tribune’s editorial appears in full below.


All the best,

Tom Benner
IAC Board Member and Treasurer


South Bend Tribune Editorial
July 16, 2015

In a comment about a year ago, in light of several botched prisoner executions, we called for a death penalty moratorium in Indiana.

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling on a case involving drugs used in executions doesn’t change our opinion that Indiana isn’t ready to proceed with its next execution.

In Glossip v. Gross, the justices ruled against inmates in Oklahoma, who alleged that the use of a sedative called midazolam resulted in executions that violate the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said the challenge failed because it did not meet the burden of identifying an alternative method of execution that would carry a lesser risk of pain.

In upholding the use of the controversial drug, the justices, in a 5-4 ruling, gave the states leeway in carrying out the death penalty.

The states’ recent experiences in doing so have played out as risky and shocking experiments. Oklahoma’s bungled execution of inmate Clayton Lockett, who writhed and strained on the gurney before finally dying of a heart attack, is just one of several similar bad outcomes.  This string of botched executions highlighted the states’ scramble to come up with new drug combinations, as drug makers began refusing to sell their products for use in executions.

In Indiana, officials have switched to Brevital, a powerful anesthetic used in hospitals, because of a shortage of sodium thiopental.  They have expressed confidence that the right death penalty protocols are in place to prevent the types of problems that marked executions in Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio. Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison said last year that the decision was reached after consultations with pharmacists, other states and other experts.

We have no doubt that officials in those above-mentioned states were confident about their drugs of choice, too.

The company that makes Brevital takes another view, arguing that the drug has never been used in lethal injections and isn’t approved for that purpose.  The company has previously stated that Indiana’s “proposed use is contrary to our mission” and has moved to block its wholesalers from accepting orders from state departments of correction.

Indiana officials may be right; the state’s next execution may proceed as planned.  Or, it could go the way of Arizona’s execution last summer of Joseph Wood, who was injected 15 times with an experimental lethal drug cocktail during the nearly two hours that it took him to die.  That state’s senior senator and former prisoner of war, John McCain, called it “torture.”

Indiana shouldn’t take the chance that its next execution will produce a similar result.  The state should take a pause on executions until officials can be sure that the next one won’t play out like a state-approved experiment in torture.

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