TIME Crime

IV Lines Placed Properly in Two Hour Arizona Execution: Doctor

An undated photo of Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood who was sentenced to death for the killing in 1989 of his ex-girlfriend and her father, was executed by lethal injection in Florence, Arizona on July 23, 2014.
An undated photo of Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood who was sentenced to death for the killing in 1989 of his ex-girlfriend and her father, was executed by lethal injection in Florence, Arizona on July 23, 2014. Arizona Department of Correction/EPA

The doctor who performed the autopsy on Joseph Wood says the IV lines that delivered the fatal drugs in the prolonged lethal injection were not the problem

A doctor who performed an autopsy on Joseph Wood, the Arizona death row inmate whose July 23 lethal injection lasted almost two hours, says that prison officials properly placed the IV lines that administer the deadly drugs.

The autopsy, performed by Dr. Gregory Hess of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, appears to show that a two-drug combination of hydromorphone and midazolam entered Wood’s veins without incident, according to the Associated Press. The statement appears to foreclose one possible explanation for why Wood’s death took so long. A properly administered lethal injection is supposed to last no more than 15 minutes.

Wood, who was sentenced to die for murdering his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989, reportedly gasped and snorted during his one hour and 57 minute-long execution. The prolonged episode was the third state-sanctioned killing to go awry this year and has renewed the debate over the legality and morality of lethal injection.

The improper placement of IV lines can lead to drugs leaking into the surrounding tissues rather than going directly into the bloodstream. A preliminary autopsy of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett found incorrectly administered IV lines to be the reason his April execution took almost 45 minutes.

 

TIME Crime

America’s Execution Problem

The prolonged execution in Arizona was the third troubled lethal injection death this year. If our most modern form of capital punishment isn't working, what happens to the death penalty?

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Joseph Wood had been snoring and gasping in the lethal injection chamber at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence for more than an hour on July 23 when one of his lawyers placed an emergency call.

“Mr. Wood’s execution started at 1:52,” Robin Konrad, one of the convicted murder’s public defenders, said to Arizona Supreme Court Judge Neil Wake in a last-ditch attempt to have the execution stayed. “He was being sedated at 1:57. Since that time he has been gasping, snoring and unable to breathe and not dying. And we’re asking—our motion asks for you to issue an emergency stay and order the Department of Corrections to start lifesaving techniques as required under their protocol.”

At some point during the execution Wood had been given a second dose of lethal drugs, and the conversation on the emergency conference call hearing turned to whether he could feel pain. Jeff Zick, a lawyer representing the Arizona attorney general’s office, said medical personnel inside the chamber believed that Wood was effectively brain dead. “The brain stem is working but there’s no brain activity,” he said.

About 18 minutes later, as the judge was about to issue a ruling, Zick confirmed that Wood had died. The entire process took one hour and 57 minutes—an extraordinarily long time for a procedure that under normal circumstances lasts no more than 15 minutes.

Wood’s prolonged execution was the third troubled state-sanctioned killing this year. In January, Dennis McGuire, a convicted rapist and murderer, reportedly gasped and snorted through a 25-minute-long lethal injection in Ohio that used a then-experimental cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone, the two drugs used on Wood in Arizona. In April, Oklahoma’s execution of Clayton Lockett was so poorly administered that it took nearly 45 minutes. President Obama called that episode “deeply troubling” and ordered the Department of Justice to review the process of capital punishment in the U.S.

As these executions renew the debate over the legality and morality of capital punishment, they are also undercutting the rationale for adopting lethal injection in the first place: once considered the most advanced and humane method of doing away with society’s most gruesome criminals, the practice increasingly appears no more safe or effective than its predecessors.

Lethal injection has been in use since 1982, largely without the kind of prolonged executions that have occurred this year. That was by design: it was a procedure developed to take a human life as painlessly as a pet is put to sleep. But the drugs used for the long-established protocol have been increasingly hard to come by as pharmaceutical companies balk for ethical reasons. Facing shortfalls, states have been turning to loosely regulated compounding pharmacies and trying new combinations of drugs.

The result has been a series of experiments, with occasionally disastrous outcomes. And it has meant that lethal injection is now facing the same questions as the electric chair, the gas chamber and the hangman’s rope before it. The difference this time is that there is no obvious substitute.

“The history of capital punishment over the last 100 years is largely a story of the belief in scientific progress,” says Austin Sarat, a professor of political science at Amherst who studies executions in the U.S. “And the story told was the same: the latest method is safe, reliable and more humane than its predecessor. But there is nothing over the horizon that portends that for the American death penalty.”

That’s one reason U.S. 9th Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski recently called for bringing back firing squads while acknowledging that executions cannot be neat and tidy. “Executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality,” Kozinski wrote in a dissent involving Wood’s case just days before he was put to death. “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’s solution was to stop pretending that a practice so grisly can ever be sanitized:

If some states and the federal government wish to continue carrying out the death penalty, they must turn away from this misguided path and return to more primitive—and foolproof—methods of execution. The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising. Eight or ten large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time. There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true.

Some state lawmakers have also suggested firing squads, and Tennessee recently passed a bill allowing the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. But most of the 32 states with capital punishment appear committed to lethal injection. In April, Ohio announced that it was upping lethal injection dosages after a review of McGuire’s execution, but insisted that his lethal injection was “conducted in a constitutional manner.” Results of Oklahoma’s investigation into the exact causes of Lockett’s death have yet to be released.

In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer said she was “concerned by the length of time it took for the administered drug protocol” to complete the execution and promised a full review of the process, but she denied that Wood was in pain and said he died in a “lawful manner.” In a statement confirming the opening of an investigation July 24, Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan called reports that the execution was botched “pure conjecture because there is no medical or forensic evidence to date that supports that conclusion. In fact, the evidence gathered thus far supports the opposite.”

The questions over the use of lethal injection are further complicated by the horrific acts that lead inmates to the death chamber. Lockett was sentenced to die for shooting a young woman and ordering accomplices to bury her alive. Wood was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989.

“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let’s worry about the drugs,” Richard Brown, a family member of one of Wood’s victims said after the execution. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet, why didn’t we give him Drano?”

Nevertheless, the drumbeat against lethal injection, and capital punishment in general, is growing. Among the critics of Wood’s execution are Arizona Senator John McCain, who called it “torture.”

“Never before, at least in recent American history, have botched executions raised issues of the death penalty itself,” Sarat says. “They have raised questions about the technology, but there was some other method waiting. Today, botched executions fit in with this narrative of the broken machinery of the death penalty.”

TIME Crime

Inside the Efforts to Halt Arizona’s Two-Hour Execution of Joseph Wood

John Zemblidge
John Zemblidge, right, leads a group of about a dozen death-penalty opponents as they protest the execution of Joseph Wood at the state prison in Florence, Ariz., on July 23, 2014 Associated Press

The inmate's lawyers appealed to state and federal courts to issue an order to resuscitate Wood as he reportedly gasped on the gurney on Wednesday

An hour into Joseph Wood’s execution, as the condemned prisoner gasped for air and struggled to breathe, Wood’s attorneys were filing motions in federal district court and the state supreme court in an attempt to get an order to resuscitate the death-row inmate as he lay on the gurney.

“We were arguing that he was still alive, that we did not know his level of sedation, and that he was still breathing,” says Dale Baich, one of Wood’s attorneys, who witnessed Wednesday’s prolonged execution.

Wood’s lethal injection, almost two hours long, is the third execution this year widely considered “botched,” raising new questions surrounding the efficacy of the method as state officials once again pledge an investigation into why it went awry.

Wood’s lawyers attempted to get a stay for his execution, based initially on First Amendment grounds that Wood, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989, had a right to know the origins of the execution drugs being used. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Wood and issued a stay, but the Supreme Court lifted it. In a last-minute appeal, Wood’s attorneys argued that the drugs posed a risk of violating the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but the Arizona Supreme Court failed to grant a stay.

At 1:52 p.m. on Wednesday, Wood was led into the execution chamber and strapped to the gurney. Midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, used to halt breathing, were administered. About five minutes into the process, Baich says, a medical-team member came into the chamber and announced that Wood was unconscious. But his condition soon changed.

“About two or three minutes later, I noticed his lips moved slightly,” Baich says. “And then two minutes after that, he was gasping for air. He started breathing. And he was pressing up against the restraining straps. And that went on for about an hour.”

Baich says Wood was taking deep, long breaths — “like he was gasping, like he was drowning.” He adds that someone from the department of corrections’ medical staff checked on Wood seven times throughout the two-hour process. Michael Kiefer, a writer for the Arizona Republic, reported that Wood gasped 640 times.

Meanwhile, Baich was filtering information to another attorney, who was filing a motion in U.S. District Court and the Arizona Supreme Court in an attempt to get an order to resuscitate the inmate. Wood died during the hearings.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has asked for a review of the state’s lethal-injection process, saying she was “concerned by the length of the time it took” to complete the execution but denied that Wood was in pain.

“One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer,” Brewer said in a statement.

Wood’s execution appeared to be eerily similar to that of Dennis McGuire, a convicted murderer who was executed in Ohio with the same drug combination used in Arizona. McGuire reportedly made snoring noises, similar to the ones made by Wood, during his 25-minute execution. Lethal-injection executions generally take 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

TIME Culture

Americans Really Like to Drink Beer, Says Unsurprising Poll

Beer Americans Stella Artois
Beer drinkers at Financier Patisserie in New York City on July 21, 2014. Rob Kim—Getty Images

But women still love wine

Bourbon may be booming and more wineries are cropping up all over the nation, yet Americans still prefer a cold brew over a glass of wine or whiskey.

According to Gallup, 41% of U.S. drinkers say they typically drink beer, compared with 31% who generally prefer wine and 23% who reach for liquor. It’s the biggest gap between beer and wine in six years.

While wine briefly outpaced beer in 2005, brews have remained the drink of choice for Americans since the 1990s, when almost half of Americans said they typically drink beer. Almost half of women, however, choose wine while only 17% of men choose it over other alcoholic drinks (57% opt for beer).

In June, the number of breweries in the U.S. reached 3,000 for the first time since before Prohibition, according to the Brewers Association, an industry trade group. Domestic wine production is also up, increasing by 6.3% in 2013, according to Wines & Vines magazine. But even with that growth, the percentage of adults who said they prefer wine dropped to 31% from 35% just a couple years ago. And despite the rise of craft distilleries and an uptick in sales of brown spirits like whiskey, just 23% of American drinkers choose spirits over beer and wine, a number virtually unchanged since 2002.

Gallup’s survey also found that 64% of U.S. adults say they drink alcohol, up from 60% a year ago, and they consume an average of just over 4 drinks per week.

TIME Crime

Arizona Execution Will Move Forward After Last-Minute Appeals

Lethal Injection Execution
Walls Unit in Huntsville prison where lethal injections are carried out on inmates in Huntsville, Texas. Jerry Cabluck—Sygma/Corbis

The court, reluctant to step into the battle over lethal injection, denies a constitutional challenge by Arizona death row inmate Joseph Wood over the secrecy of execution drugs

Updated at 3 p.m. E.T. Wednesday

A rare victory for a death row inmate over the weekend was quashed Tuesday when the Supreme Court lifted a stay of execution for Joseph Wood, who was sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her father in 1989.

In a three-sentence order, the Supreme Court reversed a judgment by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that halted Wood’s execution based on the secrecy surrounding where the state obtains the drugs to carry out lethal injection. About a half-hour after Wood was scheduled to be executed, Arizona’s top court announced that it had temporarily halted the execution on appeals. Wood’s lawyers said he did not have proper legal representation. They also claimed that Arizona’s “experimental” lethal injection methods, which include drugs like midazolam that have been used in executions that have gone awry in other states, would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But that stay was lifted Wednesday afternoon after the court heard last-minute appeals from Wood’s lawyers, clearing the way for Wood to be executed by lethal injection.

Death row inmates around the U.S. have challenged the constitutionality of their lethal injections, often arguing that the laws and policies shielding drug manufacturers’ identities are unconstitutional. Due to drug shortages and boycotts by pharmaceutical companies, many states in the last few years have obtained lethal injection drugs from compounding pharmacies, which are unregulated by the federal government.

Courts around the country have been largely unreceptive to those arguments. Wood’s case, however, was an exception.

Wood’s lawyers asked the state to halt his execution if it did not provide the origins of the drugs as well as the qualifications of the executioners, relying not on an Eighth Amendment argument regarding the risk of cruel and unusual punishment, but rather a First Amendment defense that Wood had a right to access information about his execution. A U.S. District Court judge in Phoenix initially denied the request, but the Ninth Circuit sided with Wood.

The court denied appeals by the state to lift the stay, sending the case to the Supreme Court, which has been reluctant to step into the ongoing battle over lethal injection.

But while the fate of lethal injection in the U.S. remains uncertain, reverting to an older method of executions got an unexpected endorsement. In a separate opinion by the Ninth Circuit that upheld Wood’s stay of execution before the Supreme Court intervened, Judge Alex Kozinski called lethal injection flawed and proposed bringing back the firing squad.

“If some states and the federal government wish to continue carrying out the death penalty, they must turn away from this misguided path and return to more primitive—and foolproof—methods of execution,” Judge Kozinski wrote. “The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising. Eight or ten large-caliber bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time. … 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 human blood.”

Legislators in several states have proposed bringing back firing squads. Only Oklahoma and Utah currently allow them, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, but only under very limited circumstances.

Wood’s execution was set for Wednesday morning.

TIME Crime

Behind the Video of Eric Garner’s Deadly Confrontation With New York Police

TIME talks with the man who filmed the fatal incident on Staten Island

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Updated July 23, 2014

On July 17, Ramsey Orta was talking to his friend, Eric Garner, about where to eat dinner — Friday’s, maybe, or Applebee’s. They eventually decided on Buffalo Wild Wings, but Garner never made it. Soon, a fight broke out nearby, Orta says, and after Garner helped break it up, New York Police Department officers on the scene accused Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes and attempted to arrest him.

Garner, a 43-year-old father of six who was unarmed at the time, argued with the officers about why he was being targeted. To corral Garner, one officer used what appeared to be a chokehold, a technique banned by the NYPD. Several others helped drag him to the ground. Garner, who had a history of health problems, died soon after.

Orta recorded the incident on his phone and the video has helped turn the fatal encounter from a local tragedy into a national debate over the use of force by police. Orta, 22, says he’s known Garner for several years and called him “the neighborhood dad.” Orta’s video shows what appears to be one officer pressing Garner’s face into the sidewalk as other officers attempt to subdue him. On the ground, Garner can be heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.”

“I felt like they treated him wrong even after the fact that they had him contained,” Orta says.

Since Orta’s video became public after being published by the New York Daily News, the officer who grabbed Garner by the neck, Daniel Pantaleo, was ordered to turn in his badge and gun; another was reassigned to desk duty. The four emergency medical workers who responded to the scene have also been suspended without pay. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “very troubled” by the footage, and both prosecutors and the NYPD are investigating the incident.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, criticized the department’s response as “a completely unwarranted, kneejerk reaction for political reasons and nothing more.”

Orta recorded another violent arrest at the same location in Staten Island a week earlier. He says officers have harassed him since the Garner video became public, but he says he isn’t likely to put his camera away if something happens in his Staten Island neighborhood again.

“It just gives me more power to not be afraid to pull out my camera anytime,” he says. “Even if they’re pushing me back, I might just like keep going forward and if I get arrested, hey, I got something on camera.”

Video reported by Paul Moakley, edited by Raymond Chu

TIME Crime

California Judge Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Lethal Injection Execution
Walls Unit in Huntsville prison where lethal injections are carried out on inmates in Huntsville, Texas. Jerry Cabluck—Sygma/Corbis

Uncertainties and delays over executions violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, says federal judge

A federal judge ruled California’s death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, saying uncertainties and delays over executions violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In his 29-page decision, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, a Republican-appointed judge in Orange County, vacated the death sentence of Ernest Jones, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother, while making a lengthy and detailed critique of the death penalty.

“The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution,” Judge Carney wrote. “Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death while only 13 have been executed. More than 90 have died awaiting their executions, and more than 40% have been on death row for longer than 19 years. California currently has 742 inmates on death row, the most in the U.S. according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Death penalty experts and law professors called the decision unprecedented on Wednesday. “It’s the first time I can think of since the 1970s that a judicial opinion has taken on the death penalty as a whole rather than just the individual,” says Hadar Aviram, a law professor at the University of California Hastings.

It’s unclear how binding the ruling will be outside of the Jones case. Elisabeth Semel of the University of California-Berkeley’s Death Penalty Clinic says the state is likely to appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, potentially opening up a new chapter in the legal wrangling over the death penalty in California.

“Certainly, prosecutors will argue that the order does not have the effect of ‘automatically’ invalidating the death penalty in the cases of other individuals who have been sentenced to death or who are facing capital prosecution,” Semel wrote in an e-mail. “But also, certainly, there will and must be efforts to give the ruling traction on behalf of other defendants.”

The ruling may also give fresh urgency to calls from anti-death penalty advocates for a state referendum on executions, and may prompt Gov. Jerry Brown to re-evaluate how the system functions. Gil Garcetti, a former Los Angeles district attorney and a spokesperson for SAFE California, an anti-death penalty group, called the decision “historic.”

A spokesperson for the state’s attorney general’s office says it is reviewing the decision.

TIME Religion

Atheist to Give First Town Board Invocation Following Supreme Court Battle

A Supreme Court decision upholding prayer before town board meetings has emboldened non-believers to give their own messages

As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments last November on whether town board meetings that open with prayer violate the First Amendment, Justice Antonin Scalia asked a rhetorical question: What does an invocation sound like from a non-believer?

Dan Courtney has an answer. The former president of the Freethinkers of Upstate New York will deliver the invocation before the town board of Greece, New York Tuesday evening, the same town at the center of the recent Supreme Court case.

Courtney says he contacted the board the same day the court ruled 5-4 that prayer did not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibiting the government from establishing an official religion. And he’ll soon be one of several non-believers around the U.S. who have recently delivered secular messages before public town meetings.

While Courtney says he wasn’t surprised by the ruling, he was disappointed.

“Sectarian prayer is very divisive,” he says. “Almost by definition, you’re excluding a portion of people who don’t believe in that doctrine, and it excludes the 20% of the population that is non-religious.”

But at the same time, the Supreme Court ruling appears to have emboldened several non-believers to deliver their own messages in a public forum, including an invocation at the Osceola County, Fla., board of commissioners meeting by a member of the Central Florida Freethought Community and several invocations by a non-believer at Portage, Michigan city council meetings.

In his message, Courtney says he’ll draw on the Declaration of Independence and invoke the idea that governments derive their authority from the people, not a higher power.

“If you’re an American, this should resonate with you,” he says.

TIME Immigration

Immigration Activist Jose Vargas Released From Border Detention

Jose Antonio Vargas Arrest Immigration
Jose Antonio Vargas in handcuffs at the airport in McAllen, Texas, on July 15, 2014 United We Dream/Define American

The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist turned activist lacks a U.S. visa

Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who became an immigration activist after openly admitting his undocumented status, has been released after he was detained by border-patrol agents at a Texas airport on Tuesday as he attempted to board a flight.

“I’ve been released by Border Patrol,” Vargas said in a statement. “I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country. Our daily lives are filled with fear in simple acts such as getting on an airplane to go home to our family.”

A border-patrol spokesperson had earlier confirmed to the Associated Press that Vargas was held after being arrested at the airport in McAllen, Texas, but had no other details.

Vargas, who has a valid Philippine passport but not a U.S. employment visa, announced his undocumented status in a 2011 story in the New York Times Magazine and wrote a cover story for TIME a year later about his experience.

He now travels the country as an activist working to change U.S. immigration laws. On July 10 that work brought him to McAllen, which he visited with a camera crew from his advocacy organization, Define American, to document the shelters housing thousands of unaccompanied children who have fled the escalating violence in their Central American hometowns. Vargas was apparently unaware that the U.S. Border Patrol has a checkpoint set up about 45 minutes outside of the South Texas town.

“I feel stupid. I’ve been traveling around the country, visiting 43 states in like 3 years, and I’ve been flying using my Philippine passport,” Vargas reportedly wrote in a text message sent over the weekend to a Washington Post reporter. “But I’ve never been to the Texas border area. I just figured I could use the passport. But apparently I can’t because border-patrol agents check foreign passports.”

Shortly before his arrest Tuesday, Vargas tweeted that he was attempting to pass through security with a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution and his Philippine passport as his only documentation:

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