1. The decapitated woman who was the last person in Arizona to be executed by hanging
Eva claimed innocence until her time ran out, but accepted her fate nonetheless. She seemed composed as she mounted the steps towards the gallows, telling the guards, "Don't hold my arms so tight, the people will think I'm afraid." She swayed slightly as the noose was placed around her neck and tightened. As the trapdoor below her feet gave way, her head was decapitated from her body. It rolled to a corner of the platform by spectators' feet. The crowd that gathered gasped. The gas chamber replaced the gallows after that incident.
2. Ohio inmate loses appeal to block 2nd execution attempt
Columbus, Ohio — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by a condemned killer whose 2009 execution was called off after two hours during which he cried in pain while receiving 18 needle sticks.
The court’s 6-2 ruling denies death row inmate Romell Broom the opportunity to argue that giving the state prisons agency a second chance to execute him would amount to cruel and unusual punishment and double jeopardy.
Broom, 60, is only the second inmate to survive an execution in U.S. history and the only via lethal injection. In 1947, Louisiana electrocuted 18-year-old Willie Francis by electric chair a year after an improperly prepared electric chair failed to work. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to allow the second execution to proceed, rejecting double jeopardy arguments.
Broom was sentenced to die for raping and killing 14-year-old Tryna Middleton after abducting her in Cleveland in 1984 as she walked home from a football game with two friends.
Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan said they would have granted Broom’s appeal, with Breyer saying the execution attempt took place under “especially cruel and unusual circumstances.”
Despite the ruling, a second execution is years away because of other scheduled executions and uncertainty over the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs.
Broom’s lawyer called the court’s decision a missed opportunity. Previous lawsuits alleging that a botched execution violated an inmate’s rights involved prisoners who ultimately died, said attorney Adele Shank.
“Here the court had the opportunity to address a case where there was a living person there to vindicate their constitutional rights,” Shank said. “So it’s very disappointing that this unique opportunity was not accepted for review by the court.”
Ohioans to Stop Executions, the state’s largest anti-death penalty organization, renewed its call for Republican Gov. John Kasich to grant Broom clemency.
A message was left with the state seeking comment.
The Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year rejected Broom’s state appeal. The court sided with prosecutors who say double jeopardy doesn’t apply to Broom because lethal drugs never entered Broom’s veins while executioners unsuccessfully tried to hook up an IV.
Prosecutors also argue that a previously unsuccessful execution attempt doesn’t affect the constitutionality of Broom’s death sentence.
Broom’s 2009 execution was stopped by then-Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, after an execution team tried for two hours to find a suitable vein. Broom has said he was stuck with needles at least 18 times, with pain so intense he cried and screamed.
An hour into the execution, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction recruited a part-time prison doctor with no experience or training with executions to try — again, unsuccessfully — to find a vein.
Broom has been back on death row since. No new execution date has been set.
3. 1879: Three botches in three states
When the day came, Wilkerson was seated on a chair at a corner of the jail yard about 30 feet away from the shooters and declined to be blindfolded or restrained. He said, "I give you my word... I intend to die like a man, looking my executioners right in the eye." A white three-inch paper target was pinned on Wilkerson's chest over his heart. He yelled, "[A]im for my heart, Marshal!" He drew his shoulders up as he braced for the impact, and pulled the white target pinned to his shirt above his heart. The volley didn't kill him; it just knocked him out of his chair to the ground, screaming “Oh, my God! My God! They have missed!”
He bled to death in 27 minutes, prompting the tongue-in-cheek observation by the Ogden Junction newspaper that “the French guillotine never fails.”
4. He cheated the chair
The electrocution was not going well.
Nothing happened when the executioner threw the power switch, so he toggled it back and forth until the electric chair - Gruesome Gertie, she was called - began to buck and skitter across the floor, taking her intended victim for a little ride.
Officials gathered inside the petite parish jail in St. Martinville, La., in the heart of Cajun country, began to eye one another nervously.
From beneath the death hood came the voice of the condemned murderer, a black teenager named Willie Francis.
"Take this off," Francis said. "I can't breathe."
Someone in the room replied, "You're not supposed to breathe."
But he insisted, "I am not dying."
He was correct.
After several minutes, someone mercifully called off the debacle.
Francis was helped out of the chair. His heart beat wildly, but he was very much alive.
Francis told reporters, "God fooled with the electric chair."
The date was May 3, 1946, and it was said to be the first time in the contraption's 56-year history that an electric chair had failed to do its job.
But God probably had nothing to do with it.
During World War II, the state of Louisiana decided that it would be more efficient to take the electric chair to the condemned rather than vice versa.
They ordered the construction of a "portable" chair, a 300-pound monstrosity of oak, leather and wiring that was hauled on a truck from one jail to another, as needed.
During the chair's initial outings, state prison Warden Dennis Bazer was on hand to oversee its proper usage. The chair was carefully set up and measured for sufficiently deadly voltage.
But Bazer stayed home when it come time to fry Willie Francis.
He sent two men with the chair: Capt. Edward Foster, a prison officer, and Vincent Vinezia, an Angola inmate with trustee status.
Foster and Vinezia spent most of their two days in St. Martinville behind tavern doors. On execution day, the men reeked of whisky as they set up the chair, which was attached by cables to electricity generators outside the jail.
The execution failed because they had improperly grounded the current, among many other errors.
No one in Louisiana government was particularly vexed. The state announced that it would simply try to kill Francis again.
A conscientious Cajun lawyer, Bertrand DeBlanc, took up his case as a possible violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
On May 31, the state Board of Pardons considered whether Francis should be spared a second electrocution and sent to prison for life instead.
"No man should go to the chair twice," attorney DeBlanc pleaded. "The voice of humanity and justice cries out against such an outrage."
Board members stifled a yawn and ordered Francis back to Gertie's lap.
But interlopers back East caught wind of the case, and Francis became a capital punishment cause célèbre.
Some questioned whether he should have faced death in the first place.
Francis was the son of a Creole laborer who supported a large family on wages of $9 a week. The son had suffered the second-rate education offered to rural Southern blacks, and he was naïve to boot.
At age 15, young Francis found work helping out around the drugstore of a local merchant, Andrew Thomas. On Nov. 8, 1944, Thomas was found shot to death at his home, the victim of an apparent robbery.
Six months later, Francis was picked up on an unrelated charge in Port Arthur, Tex., where he was living with his sister. Police there said Francis was carrying a wallet owned by the murder victim Thomas.
Authorities extracted two terse confessions from Francis - each written while the scrawny teen was surrounded by men in uniforms.
In scrawled handwriting, he wrote that he was waiting for Thomas near his garage on the night of the murder.
"When he came out the gorage [sic] I shot him five times. That all I remember, a short story. Sinarely [sic], Willie Francis."
Cops said he got $4 and a watch, which he hocked. They also said he led them to a culvert where they found a holster from the .38-caliber pistol presumed to have been used in the murder. The gun had been found there months before. Cops had no explanation as to how the holster had been overlooked.
Attorneys DeBlanc and Skelly Wright appealed the case on 8th Amendment grounds, losing each step through Louisiana state courts.
Francis' last hope was the United States Supreme Court.
On Nov. 8, 1946, Wright - who would go on to a distinguished career on the U.S. Court of Appeals - made his argument to the justices. Behind the scene, the Francis case became legendary for backroom vote-swapping by justices.
"How many deliberate and intentional reapplications of electric current does it take to produce a cruel, unusual and unconstitutional punishment?" wrote Justice Harold Burton. Three justices agreed with him - in favor of Francis.
"Our minds rebel against permitting the same sovereignty to punish an accused twice for the same offense," responded Justice Stanley Forman Reed. "[But] we see no difference from a constitutional point of view between a new trial for error of law ... and an execution that follows a failure of equipment."
He, too, persuaded three of his brethren - against Francis.
Justice Felix Frankfurter, the legendary liberal who grew up on the lower East Side, held the deciding vote.
Frankfurter grappled mightily with the issue before deciding to give "the benefit of the doubt," as he called it, to Louisiana. He voted against Francis while privately lobbying the Louisiana governor to commute the man's death sentence.
The governor sniggered at the suggestion.
On May 9, 1947, a year and a week after the bungled execution, Willie Francis was given another jolt of electricity. God did not intercede the second time around.
5. Arizona execution lasts nearly two hours; lawyer says Joseph Wood was ‘gasping and struggling to breathe’
This drawn-out death of Joseph R. Wood III in Arizona prompted the governor to order a review and drew renewed criticism of lethal injection, the main method of execution in the United States, just months after a high-profile botched execution in Oklahoma.
“I’ve witnessed a number of executions before and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Dale Baich, one of Wood’s attorneys, told The Washington Post in a phone call. “Nor has an execution that I observed taken this long.”
Wood was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene. In 1989, Wood went to a body shop where Debra and her father worked and shot Eugene Dietz in the chest; he then shot Debra twice, killing her.
He was killed at the Arizona State Prison Complex in an unusually prolonged process that immediately brought to mind lethal injections that have gone awry in recent months.
“I take comfort knowing today my pain stops, and I said a prayer that on this or any other day you may find peace in all of your hearts and may God forgive you all,” Wood said as part of his final words, according to the Associated Press.
Wood was declared fully sedated at 1:57 p.m. and pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., almost two full hours after the medical team was first directed to administer the drugs.
During the execution, Wood’s attorneys filed a request to halt the lethal injection because he was still awake more than an hour after the process began. Baich, speaking via telephone from the parking lot of the state prison in Florence, Ariz., said Wood’s lips started to move and he was “struggling to breathe” shortly after he was deemed sedated.
Baich said he watched Wood “gasp and breathe heavily” for more than an hour and 40 minutes. But Baich said that he could not tell from his vantage point if Wood was in pain. During the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma earlier this year, witnesses reported seeing Lockett grimace, try to lift his head up and clench his jaw.
Reporters for the Associated Press and the Arizona Republic also reported seeing Wood gasp more than 600 times before dying. Michael Kiefer, a reporter for the Arizona Republic who witnessed the execution, told the Republic he counted 660 gasps.
“I just know it was not efficient,” Kiefer said. “It took a long time.”
State officials disputed these accounts, contending that Wood was never in pain and that he was only snoring.
“I’m telling you he was snoring,” Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general’s office, said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “There was no gasping or snorting. Nothing. He looked like he was asleep. This was my first execution and I have no reason to minimize this.”
Charles Ryan, the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said in a statement Wednesday night that Wood did not suffer during the execution.
“Throughout this execution, I conferred and collaborated with our IV team members and was assured unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress,” Ryan said.
He said that the medical team confirmed that Wood was sedated, checking eight different times in all. Ryan also said in his statement that Wood did not grimace or make any movements other than snoring.
“Physiologically, the time to complete an execution varies for each individual,” Ryan said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) ordered the state’s Department of Corrections to conduct a review of the execution, saying in a statement that she was “concerned by the length of time” it took.
“One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer,” she said. “This is in stark contrast to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims — and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”
Ryan has said his department will conduct a full review and awaits the results of a toxicology study and an autopsy.
Family members of Wood’s victims, who were angered that he looked at them and smiled while delivering his final words, told reporters that they did not object to the way the execution occurred.
“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let’s worry about the drugs,” Richard Brown told the Associated Press. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet, why didn’t we give him Drano?”
Wood was the third inmate executed in Arizona since last October and the first put to death using a combination of the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone.
Attorneys for Wood had argued that more information was needed regarding the drugs that would be used in the execution. Arizona planned to use a two-drug combination that had been used only once before in an execution. (That episode, a lethal injection in Ohio, lasted for nearly 25 minutes. Witnesses said the inmate was snorting and gasping during the process.)
A panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had agreed with Wood over the weekend, staying the execution, and the full court upheld the decision on Monday. But the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the stay and denied a stay request on Tuesday evening. The Supreme Court also denied a stay of execution on Wednesday. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy referred the stay request to the entire court, and it was denied without explanation.
Shortly before the scheduled injection, the state Supreme Court said it had stayed the execution so it could consider Wood’s petition. A short time later, the court announced that it had dissolved the earlier stay and was denying any motions asking for the execution to be stayed.
Death penalty opponents criticized the length of Wood’s execution, saying that Arizona should have learned from the previous episodes in Oklahoma and Ohio.
“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. “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.”
Wood was the first person executed this year in the state. Arizona’s last two executions, both in October 2013, used two different types of lethal injections: Edward Schad was put to death with an injection of one drug (pentobarbital) on Oct. 9, while Robert Jones was executed with a three-drug mix (including midazolam hydrochloride) two weeks later.
The state changed its lethal injection protocols earlier this year. Horne’s office announced that it would allow the use of midazolam and hydromorphone to carry out the executions, a change that occurred because the state is one of many scrambling to find the drugs needed for lethal injections. This shortage has caused states to effectively experiment with different combinations and drug protocols while also discussing turning to methods of execution such as the electric chair or firing squad.
When the appeals court upheld the stay of Wood’s execution, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote a stinging dissent arguing that attacks on lethal injection stemmed from fundamental problems with the concept:
Whatever happens to Wood, the attacks will not stop and for a simple reason: 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. They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.
Kozinski went on to argue that a return to the firing squad made the most sense, rather than continuing to rely on drugs.
“Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding blood,” he wrote.
6. Mummified alive? Oklahoma pumped inmate with wrong drug during botched execution
Officials were supposed to use potassium chloride to stop Charles Frederick Warner’s heart. Instead, they pumped him with potassium acetate, a drug which is used in mixtures for tissue preservation, mummification and embalming, according to the Oklahoman’s investigation into the inmate’s autopsy report.
Potassium acetate was used for mummification and preservation before museums adopted the use of formaldehyde, according to a paper in the Journal of the International Society of Plastination. The drug works by changing the physical properties of the body’s fluids.
At the time of his execution on January 15, Warner, a convicted child rapist and murderer, took 18 minutes to die.
“It feels like acid,” said Warner, according to the KFOR news outlet. “My body is on fire.”
The KFOR reporter present said it did not appear that Warner was in pain. He never raised his head off the gurney, and did not go into convulsions as previous inmates had.
Warner’s last words before the drugs took full effect were: “I’m not afraid to die, we’s [we are] all gonna die.”
According to Mother Jones, autopsy records show that the syringes used on Warner were labeled as containing potassium chloride, but in fact had been filled from vials of potassium acetate, a substitution not indicated in the corrections department’s execution logs.
Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University and an expert on lethal injection, told Mother Jones that “until today, no state has acknowledged using potassium acetate for execution by lethal injection, and no state has publicly proposed using it.”
The Oklahoman said the same wrong drug was delivered to corrections officials for the scheduled lethal injection for another convicted murder, Richard Glossip, who had been trying to get a new trial after new evidence surfaced showing he might be innocent of his conviction. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin granted a last-minute stay of execution after learning about the drug mix-up.
Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Glossip’s execution.
“I want to assure the public that our investigation will be full, fair and complete and includes not only actions on September 30, but any and all actions prior, relevant to the use of potassium acetate and potassium chloride,” Pruitt told the Oklahoman.
Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender in Arizona who represented Glossip and other Oklahoma death row inmates in their Supreme Court challenges to lethal injection, said in a statement Thursday that he’ll be continuing litigation against the state to find out more about what went wrong.
“We cannot trust Oklahoma to get it right or to tell the truth,” he said. “The State’s disclosure that it used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride during the execution of Charles Warner yet again raises serious questions about the ability of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to carry out executions.”
Drug makers, mostly from Europe, began banning the sale of drugs for use in executions about four years ago, citing ethical reasons. States have been scrambling to find new combinations and have turned to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies that can mix chemicals for their execution drugs.
Limited supplies have also caused states to become less forthcoming about much of the process used for their lethal injections. They’ve passed laws shielding the people involved from public exposure and prevented inmates from knowing the source or makeup of the drugs to be used on them, according to the New York Times.
7. Friends of victim have zero sympathy for Clayton Lockett, inmate who took 43 minutes to die in botched Okla. execution
Friends of Stephanie Neiman have no sympathy for her convicted killer, Clayton Lockett, the Oklahoma death row inmate who writhed and groaned during his execution Tuesday, a sentence he received for shooting and burying alive the 19-year-old young woman some 15 years ago.
“Stephanie was beat up, she was shot, she was thrown in a grave when she was still alive,” Marilee Macias, the owner of the Kumback Lunch in Neiman’s hometown of Perry, Okla., told KFOR-TV. “His little 30 minutes of lying there in anguish, if he was even feeling any anguish for 30 minutes, does not compare at all to anything Stephanie went through or her family.
“What that guy got, he deserved,” she added.
Lockett, 38, had an IV inserted into his groin area before authorities began pumping a three-drug cocktail through his body to kill the man Tuesday. But the vein “blew,” authorities said, causing Lockett to groan and writhe about 15 minutes after the execution began and forcing officials to halt the killing.
Lockett died of a massive heart attack 43 minutes after the execution started, forcing the state to postpone a second execution planned for the same night.
President Obama weighed in Friday, calling the execution “deeply troubling” and asking for the attorney general to review the procedure.
But the victim’s friends and acquaintances had no pity for how the remorseless killer died, despite the controversial botched execution.
“Who cares if he feels pain,” stylist April Sewell, at Hair Naturally in Perry told KFOR. “You know honestly, he’s getting away a lot easier than how his victim did, how Stephanie did.”
“I want them to sit back and think,” Tiajuana Hammock said of those who may pity Lockett’s brutal death. “If that were your child, would you have sympathy?”
Days after the man’s death, his videotaped confession of the crime was obtained and released for the first time to the public by KFOR.
The shocking tape shows a cigarette-smoking Lockett matter-of-factly give a step by step account of the time he and two accomplices broke into a man’s home, kidnapped several people and killed Neiman in fear that she would rat them out to police.
“I couldn’t convince her not to tell,” Lockett describes on the tape.
8. Death penalty opponents call botched execution of Ronald Bert Smith Jr. an ‘avoidable disaster’
For 13 minutes after he was sedated to avoid an unconstitutionally painful death, Ronald Bert Smith Jr. was seen coughing, gasping and moving.
Smith's legal team says these movements Thursday night show "he was not anesthetized at any point during the agonizingly long procedure."
Alabama's Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn disputes that Smith was in pain after being injected with midazolam, a sedative some states are using now that pharmaceutical companies are refusing to make other drugs available for executions.
Smith was sentenced to die for shooting convenience store clerk Casey Wilson in 1994 robbery that prosecutors described as an execution-style murder.
His final movements will likely be fiercely debated as Alabama resumes executions after years of litigation and a drug shortage created by campaigns against the death penalty. Inmate advocates argue that Alabama's process is too flawed and secretive, raising the risk of botched executions.
Smith coughed and heaved his chest repeatedly during the 30-minute execution process and appeared to move his arms slightly after two tests were administered to determine consciousness.
Attorneys with the Alabama Federal Defenders Program, who watched the execution, issued a statement expressing profound disappointment "that the state and courts failed to intervene at any stage and take steps to prevent this avoidable disaster."
Dunn said Alabama's execution protocol has been upheld by the courts, and he disputed that the condemned man felt any pain.
"Early in the execution, Smith, with eyes closed, did cough but at no time during the execution was there observational evidence that he suffered," Dunn's statement said, noting that an "autopsy will determine if there were any irregularities."
"No autopsy can measure the extent of Ron Smith's suffering as he died," his lawyers said.
This was Alabama's second execution using midazolam to render an inmate unconscious before injections of rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride to stop the lungs and heart.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last year that midazolam wasn't proven to violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates have continued to challenge its use, saying it is a sedative, not an anesthetic, and cannot reliably render a person unconscious.
"I think we saw last night what we, unfortunately, have seen so many times before, which is that midazolam, which was never intended to be used this way, is not effective and can't be used this way," said Cassandra Stubbs, who directs the capital punishment project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Arizona, Ohio and Florida also have used midazolam. Mississippi and Arkansas, which have not executed an inmate in several years, have also announced plans to use the sedative. Virginia has approved its use as well.
Critics have pointed to problems with midazolam in other states' executions. In Ohio, inmate Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted for more than 26 minutes while being put to death. In Arizona, Joseph Rudolph Wood gasped and snorted for more than 90 minutes after his execution began.
Soon after Smith received the first injection, he clenched his fists and raised his head before letting it fall back onto the gurney. Then, he coughed and heaved his torso repeatedly for 13 minutes.
A corrections officer gave Smith two consciousness checks, which involved stroking the area around his eyes, saying his name and pinching his left arm. If the inmate does not respond, the warden, from the control room, administers the final two drugs, Dunn said.
Smith's lawyers believe the state gave him an additional dose of midazolam after he moved his arm slightly in response to the first consciousness test, but Dunn declined to say if a second dose was used, saying the department won't discuss specifics of the protocol.
The first check was given about 10:37 p.m. Smith's left arm moved slightly after the pinch. A second check was performed 10 minutes later. Smith did not immediately respond but shortly afterward, his right hand and lower arm appeared to lift up slightly.
Smith's breathing and coughing then slowed to the point they were no longer visible. The curtains to the viewing room closed at 10:59 p.m. A prison system spokesman said a doctor pronounced Smith dead at 11:05 p.m.
Alabama has been trying to resume executions after a lull caused by a shortage of execution drugs and litigation. The state executed Christopher Eugene Brooks in January for the 1993 rape and beating death of a woman. That was Alabama's first execution using midazolam, and apparently went as planned, causing the inmate no obvious signs of distress.