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“Oklahoma Is Like Turning It Up To 11”: If Oklahoma Gets Any Redder It’s Going To Start Blistering And Peeling

Rachel recently told viewers, “What we are actually seeing now in terms of the options for governance is not just blue states and red states, but rather blue states and then red states – and then Oklahoma. Oklahoma is like turning it up to 11…. If Oklahoma gets any redder it’s going to start blistering and peeling.”

That was 11 days ago, before this week’s gut-wrenching, botched execution.

And the public official whose leadership has made Oklahoma’s shift to the hard right possible is Gov. Mary Fallin (R). Her administration’s approach to lethal injections has suddenly generated international attention, but as Irin Carmon noted, the Republican governor has cultivated a striking reputation on a variety of fronts.

An execution this week that went terribly wrong has catapulted Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, to the national stage. But there’s more to Fallin than her zeal for capital punishment. The first female governor of Oklahoma has also quashed broader criminal justice reform, refused Medicaid expansion that would cover 150,000 Oklahoma residents, signed 10 new restrictions on abortion and contraception, blocked local minimum wage increases, and slashed education funding.

Chris Hayes joked the other day, “I used to say [Pennsylvania’s] Tom Corbett was my dark horse candidate for worst governor in the country, but Mary Fallin has now taken the lead.”

Carmon’s piece reads like an indictment of sorts: Fallin has pushed a regressive economic agenda, waging a “war against income taxes” while blocking minimum- wage increases; she’s cut investments in education; she’s blocked health care coverage for 150,000 low-income Oklahomans; and she’s waged a far-right culture war, imposing new restrictions on reproductive rights and making it tougher for National Guard in Oklahoma to receive equal benefits if they’re in same-sex marriages.

But it’s Fallin’s approach to the death penalty that appears to have made her famous. Remember, it was her administration that said it was prepared to defy a state Supreme Court ruling in order to execute two Oklahomans, using a combination of chemicals state officials did not want to disclose, from a drug manufacturer the state did not want to identify.

The governor has called for a review of this week’s fiasco, but David Firestone reported yesterday that Fallin’s order is itself dubious.

Did anyone really believe that Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma would allow a truly independent review of the “execution” –  death by torture is more like it – that shocked the conscience of the nation and the world on Tuesday night? […]

Any serious investigation of the fiasco would have to closely examine the governor’s conduct leading up to it. But she doesn’t have to worry. To lead the “independent” review, she appointed her own employee, the state commissioner of public safety, Michael Thompson. And he won’t be considering her actions. The review, she said, would be limited to three items: the cause of Mr. Lockett’s death, whether the Corrections Department followed the correct protocol and how that department can improve its procedures in the future.

In other words, she asked one of her commissioners to investigate another one, which doesn’t exactly instill confidence that the review will be “deliberate and thorough,” as she described it.

With a record like this, can scuttlebutt about Fallin’s prospects as a national candidate be far behind?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 2, 2014

May 4, 2014 Posted by | Death Penalty, Mary Fallin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pattern For The Court”: SCOTUS’s Meaningless Death Penalty Rules

Monday evening, the state of Florida executed John Errol Ferguson. This was not an act of injustice because Ferguson was innocent—he brutally killed eight people. It was an act of injustice because Ferguson was mentally ill. The Eighth Amendment forbids his execution.

In 2008, the Supreme Court held that a person cannot be executed if he or she is insane at the time of his or her execution. To the extent that the term has meaning, it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t apply to Ferguson, who experts have testified has a “genuine belief” that he is the “prince of God” and has the power to control the sun. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones details Ferguson’s history of mental illness:

Ferguson’s story, and long-documented record of mental illness, starts back in 1965, when records show Ferguson was suffering from hallucinations. In 1971, he was committed to a state mental hospital after being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. For the next several years, court-appointed doctors repeatedly reported that Ferguson was psychotic and in need of long-term hospitalization.

In 1975, a court-appointed psychiatrist reported that Ferguson was “suffering from a major mental disorder and is extremely dangerous to himself and others. He is dangerous to the point where he is considered homicidal … He should be in a maximum security ward … He should not be released under any circumstances.”

As Mencimer goes on to explain, Ferguson was nonetheless released from custody, a decision and failure of judgment that cost eight people their lives. Yet Florida continues to deny the obvious about Ferguson’s paranoid schizophrenia. Despite its earlier command, the Supreme Court allowed him to be executed without comment.

This kind of outcome is becoming a pattern for the Court, as we saw earlier this year with respect to its formal holding that executing someone with a severe mental handicap violates the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court’s prohibition on executing the mentally handicapped or severely ill have become more of a Potemkin village façade of fairness than the real thing because of its refusal to define or enforce any kind of substantive standard to determine whom the rule applies to. The Court’s deference to state determinations—no matter how implausible they are—means that the only states that won’t execute those with severe mental incapacities are those already committed not to doing so. Any state that lacks that commitment can proceed as before.

This is illustrative of the larger problem with the death penalty: The American criminal-justice system does not appear capable of rationally designating only those most clearly culpable of heinous crimes for execution. It remains true, in the memorable phrase of Justice Potter Stewart, that capital punishment as applied by the states is “cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” Some people are executed while others found guilty of more horrible crimes in the same state are not, and some people who are executed are probably not guilty of anything. The Supreme Court’s occasional gestures towards making the death penalty less arbitrary have done almost nothing to alter this fact.

And yet, as Sarah Muller of MSNBC points out, not only is Florida refraining from tightening its procedures, it’s actively seeking to speed up executions with its “Timely Justice Act.” It’s become increasingly hard to imagine that the Supreme Court will stand in the state’s way, which will have the effect of making an already unjust and error-prone process for killing people even more so.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The American Prospect, August 7, 2013

August 8, 2013 Posted by | Death Penalty, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Could This Prompt A Rush On Executions?”: Texas Running Low On Lethal Injection Drug But Confident It Won’t Miss A Beat

Texas already leads the nation in carrying out executions, having killed 11 inmates so far this year. The state’s Department of Criminal Justice announced this week, however, that state supplies of the sedative pentobarbital, used in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail, were running low and remaining supplies would expire by September. Like other states, Texas switched to pentobarbital when supplies of another sedative regularly used in the lethal cocktail were cut off. Now the situation is repeating with this sedative.

However, as the Guardian noted, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Jason Clark, expressed confidence that it would be able to continue to carry out executions. “Alternate sources of pentobarbital are possible, or an alternate drug,” he said.

When Georgia faced a similar predicament earlier this year, with its limited supplies of lethal drugs nearing expiration, a troubling situation arose in which the state attempted to rush through a spate of executions. As I noted in February, state prosecutors pushed aggressively to overturn the stay of execution granted intellectually disabled death row inmate Warren Hill (although the stay remains) and reportedly executed 38-year-old Andrew Allen Cook (on death row since 1995 for the murder of two college students) in the hurry prompted by drug shortages.

With 300 inmates currently on Texas death row, attempts to speed up executions before pentobarbital supplies expire would be of grave concern to human rights advocates. It is of some hope, however, that more and more death penalty states are under a stranglehold from companies and authorities around the world refusing to provide drugs used in executions.

 

By: Natasha Lennard, Salon, August 2, 2013

August 3, 2013 Posted by | Death Penalty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Make Peace With God”: Embattled Federal Judge Called For Texas To Execute 8 To 12 Times As Many Inmates Per Year

According to a complaint filed last week against federal appellate Judge Edith Jones, Jones suggested that African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed towards violent crime and that the death penalty is a public service because it allows inmates to “make peace with God.” Should these allegations against Judge Jones be proven, they will be only the latest examples of a career’s worth of nonchalance regarding executions. Indeed, as far back as 1990, a much younger Jones proposed a series of reforms to Texas’ execution procedures that would have increased that state’s execution rate by as much as twelve times.

In an article for the Texas Bar Journal entitled “Death Penalty Procedures: A Proposal for Reform,” which is available through the legal research service HeinOnline, Jones decries a capital punishment system in Texas which she views as too inefficient, in large part because judges delay executions by taking time to review death sentences to determine that they were lawfully handed down. Indeed, at one point Jones blames the slow rate of executions on “the frequent, human reaction of most judges . . . to defer a decision if any element of a case raises doubts, or to grant a temporary stay for further consideration.”

To speed along Texas’ ability to kill death row inmates, Jones proposes that Texas schedule “four to six executions per month, commencing six months to one year from the date” those execution dates are made public. Notably, in the five years prior to when Jones wrote this piece, Texas executed an average of just under six inmates per year, so the immediate impact of her proposal would have been to multiply the state’s execution rate eight to twelvefold.

It’s also worth noting that Texas’ execution rate did spike significantly in the years after Jones wrote this piece. Most significantly, during the four years after Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which limited the ability of death row inmates to challenge their sentences in federal court, Texas executed an average of 33 people per year. Nevertheless, in the modern era of American death penalty law, Texas has never executed the 48 to 72 people per year suggested by Jones’ piece. The deadliest year for Texas inmates was 2000, when 40 people were executed. 15 people were executed last year. Nevertheless, Jones concludes her list of proposals for expediting Texas’ executions by suggesting they could be viewed as “too lenient” because they would “take more than four years to conclude all the currently pending capital cases.”

A decade after publishing this proposal, Jones joined two opinions claiming that a man whose attorney slept through much of his trial could nonetheless be executed.

Even without Jones’ proposal for a wave of executions, Texas has a higher execution rate than any other state. More than one third of all U.S. executions took place in Texas since 1976, when the Supreme Court announced the modern constitutional regime governing death penalty cases.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, June 10, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | Death Penalty, Federal Courts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Timely Injustice”: Florida Is Not Killing People Fast Enough

At great political peril, George Ryan did the right thing.

Not to canonize the man. After all, the then-governor of Illinois was later imprisoned on corruption charges.

But that doesn’t change the fact that, in 2000, stung that 13 inmates had been exonerated and freed from death row in the previous 23 years, Ryan committed an act of profound moral courage, imposing a moratorium on capital punishment. In 2003, in the waning days of his term, he one-upped himself, commuting every death sentence in his state.

Recalling what Gov. George Ryan once did provides interesting context as Floridians and death penalty opponents around the country wait to see what Gov. Rick Scott will do.

Florida’s chief executive has on his desk awaiting his signature — or, dare we hope, his veto — a piece of legislation called the Timely Justice Act, passed by his state legislature in the apparent belief Florida is not killing people fast enough.

There are 404 people awaiting execution in Florida. We learn from a report by my colleague, Mary Ellen Klas, that 155 of them have been there longer than 20 years, and 10 have been there longer than 35 years. The average wait: 13 years.

The act would require the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days after a review by the state Supreme Court. Execution would have to take place within 180 days. Additionally, the bill bars attorneys from using certain defense strategies. Granted, it also contains provisions favorable to inmates, including one penalizing lawyers who provide ineffective counsel, but that fig leaf does not mitigate the danger of a bill that, in effect, creates a fast track to the death chamber.

This measure, I feel constrained to point out, is brought to you by the same legislative body that brought you the ill-conceived Stand Your Ground law that has lately led people to call Florida the “gunshine state.” This latest sop to frontier justice is necessary, we’re told, because, as an editorial by Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers puts it, delayed executions are “an affront to justice — especially for victims’ families.”

Beg pardon — and I know this will be controversial — but I’m tired of hearing what we owe victim’s families. I speak from no deficit of compassion for them. I am, for goodness sake, a member of a victim’s family, albeit his extended family. R.I.P., Ted McCoy, my brother-in-law, who was murdered 20 years ago in Los Angeles.

That said, there’s something … uncomfortably barbarous in this idea that we as a society owe those families blood as recompense for the pain they have endured.

More to the point, there’s this: Since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-’70s, Florida has executed 75 people. But it has exonerated 24, many of whom spent more than a decade on death row. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Florida has the highest error rate in the country.

So how can a state that gets it wrong at least one time in every four want to speed up the process? Does no one care about the increased likelihood of executing someone who committed no crime?

We are always called upon to be solicitous of the pain suffered by victims’ families. Where is our solicitude for innocent people, wrong place, wrong time, people — usually indigent people of color — who are rushed, perjured, bumbled, erred and “oopsed” onto death row? Why does their pain affect us less? Why are they less deserving of our compassion? Are they not victims, too?

To his lasting credit, Illinois’ former governor came to recognize capital punishment as the moral sinkhole it is. It is probably too much to hope Florida’s governor will do the same. But at a minimum he must veto this mistake in waiting. The bill his legislature has sent him imposes something that may indeed be timely.

But it sure as hell is not justice.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, May 20, 2013

May 23, 2013 Posted by | Death Penalty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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