Thursday, June 19, 2014

First executions since Oklahoma's botched science experiment

Right around midnight on June 18, 2014, the states of Georgia and Missouri murdered inmates with secret drug protocols. They were the first executions in the United States since Oklahoma's botched execution of Clayton Lockett.

The first inmate to die was Marcus Wellons in Georgia, whose execution was carried out after his last minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court fell on deaf ears. Mr. Wellons challenged the execution on the grounds that due to state secrecy laws he had no way of finding out the purity and potency of the drug that would be used to kill him. Without that information he was unable to challenge the execution protocol under the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

A three judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his claim that state secrecy laws prevented him from obtaining information regarding the drug that would be used to kill him. Judge Charles Wilson said he was troubled by the circular logic of the secrecy law in Georgia. He voiced concerns over the court's ability to determine whether an inmate's Eighth Amendment protections were violated because of the secrecy law. In the end, however, he was a good little soldier and looked past his concerns and voted to kill Mr. Wellons.

From the Los Angeles Times:
Three judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected those arguments earlier Tuesday, though one judge, Charles Wilson, wrote that Georgia's secrecy law had a "disturbing circularity problem." 
Since it was Wellons' responsibility to prove that the state's execution plans were likely to cause an unacceptable amount of harm, Wilson wrote, "How could he when the state has passed a law prohibiting him from learning about the compound it plans to use to execute him?" 
Wilson added that judges, too, would have difficulty examining the legality of the state's executions without more information on how they were being carried out. Despite those concerns, he cleared the way for Wellons' execution.
Shortly after Mr. Wellons was murdered down in Georgia, the State of Missouri stuck a needle in John Winfield's arm and killed him. Mr. Winfield's execution had been put on hold by a federal judge over concerns that the state wasn't being fair when it came to Mr. Winfield's push for clemency. According to court papers the State of Missouri threatened to fire a prison guard who was going to testify that Mr. Winfield was a model prisoner.

Once the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the lower court's stay of execution, the State of Missouri wasted no in killing Mr. Warfield.

Thanks to state secrecy laws we know nothing about the drugs used to kill either Mr. Wellens or Mr. Warfield. We know nothing about the efficacy of the drugs used or how powerful the drugs were when they were used to kill the prisoners. Without that knowledge it is virtually impossible for anyone to determine whether or not inmates may suffer while being executed.

As citizens of the states, we all have a right to know just how our elected officials are spending our money and just what they are doing in our names. Unfortunately we choose to ignore those rights when it comes to those sentenced to die by a jury of their so-called peers.

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