TIME Crime

Oklahoma Death Row Inmate Died From Lethal Injection, Not Heart Attack

An independent autopsy of death row inmate Clayton Lockett, who was executed in April at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., ruled that Lockett died as a result from the drugs administered to him by prison officials and not from a heart attack. AP

Autopsy reveals officials at "botched" execution attempted to tap a vein in Clayton Lockett's groin, chest, neck, both arms and one of his feet

An independent autopsy released Thursday declared that Clayton Lockett, an Oklahoma death row inmate whose botched execution in April caused the state to temporarily halt executions, died from “judicial execution by lethal injection” and not from a heart attack, as prison officials had concluded at the time.

The autopsy, conducted by the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas, Texas, detailed multiple locations where officials attempted to inject Lockett, including in the groin, chest, neck, both arms and one of his feet. Several puncture wounds were found in his neck and chest, the autopsy said.

Oklahoma executed Lockett, convicted in the 1999 murder of Stephanie Neiman, using a three-drug lethal injection protocol that included midazolam, vecuronium and potassium chloride. The execution took 51 minutes as prison officials struggled to find a vein to properly administer the drugs.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton has said that one of Lockett’s veins collapsed during the execution, which led officials to search for other access points. Ultimately, state executioners administered the drugs through Lockett’s groin, a highly unusual move. During the procedure, Lockett reportedly writhed and groaned on the execution table. Halfway through, prison officials used a curtain to block views of the chamber from those watching the execution in a nearby viewing room.

Following the lethal injection, Patton announced that Lockett died of a heart attack and that one of the lines had become dislodged and likely leaked drugs into the inmate’s surrounding tissues rather than directly into the bloodstream.

The independent autopsy released Thursday, however, found traces of all three drugs in Lockett’s system and declared that he died from the administered drugs. But the autopsy did not address the questions surrounding the prolonged execution and why it was so problematic.

“What this initial autopsy report does not appear to answer is what went wrong during Mr. Lockett’s execution, which took over 45 minutes, with witnesses reporting he writhed and gasped in pain,” said Dale Baich, an attorney for Oklahoma death row prisoners, in a statement.

Gov. Mary Fallin has ordered a review of the state’s execution procedures that is still ongoing while the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has delayed all executions in the state until November. The next lethal injection is set for Nov. 13.

TIME Laws

Why It’s Legal for a 9-Year-Old to Fire an Uzi

Gun Show Held At Pima County Fairgrounds
People shoot their guns at the Southwest Regional Park shooting range near the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Ariz. Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

Questions after the death of a shooting instructor

The deadly shooting in which a nine-year-old girl accidentally killed her firing range instructor with an Uzi on Monday is the kind of incident that seems almost inconceivable. How can someone so young be allowed to fire such a high-powered weapon? The answer: Because she was accompanied by an adult.

“I think you’ll find that state laws provide for those under a certain age, usually 18, to shoot when under adult supervision or instruction,” says Michael Bazinet, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “Youth shooting sports are generally extremely safe activities, enjoyed by millions of Americans.”

Bazinet says he knows of no federal legislation that restricts minors from shooting range activities, leaving it up to the states and the ranges themselves to determine who’s too young to shoot.

Bullets and Burgers, a shooting range in the Arizona’s Mojave Desert where the incident took place Monday morning, allows children as young as eight to shoot as long as they’re accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Under Arizona law, minors as young as 14 can shoot at a range without adult supervision.

The fatal shooting occurred about 10 a.m. Monday morning when Charles Vacca, a 39-year-old firearms instructor, was demonstrating how to fire the gun. The nine-year-old, whose name hasn’t been released but was accompanied by her parents, can be seen taking an initial shot in a video released by authorities. Vacca then appears to switch the gun to automatic. The video shows the gun recoiling as it points toward Vacca, who was shot in the head according to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office. (That portion is not seen in the video.)

Vacca was pronounced dead Monday evening.

Below is the video released by police, and while it does not depict the moment of the shooting, it may still be disturbing to some viewers; caution is advised.

TIME Food

The Surprising Reason ‘Pink Slime’ Meat Is Back

Beef to Tomato Send July 4 Food Cost to Record
Ground beef is portioned onto trays at a supermarket meat department, July 2, 2014. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

It has something to do with the weather

The attention was damning. In 2012, ABC News ran an 11-segment investigation on a low-cost meat product critics called “pink slime,” a moniker coined by a former USDA employee who argued the filler wasn’t really beef.

In an attempt to steer the public away from it, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver “recreated” it on his TV show by throwing beef scraps into a washing machine and dousing the results with ammonia. Soon, social media feeds were blanketed with photos supposedly of the product that made the meat look like soft-serve strawberry ice cream.

The backlash was intense. Though the USDA considers the product safe for human consumption, fast food giants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell publicly renounced it and public schools around the country stopped serving it for lunch. By May 2012, Beef Products, Inc,, the South Dakota-based inventor of the product, was on the brink of collapse—closing three of its four plants and laying off 700 employees.

What a difference two years makes.

On Aug. 18, BPI reopened one of its shuttered plants. While production is nowhere near pre-freak-out levels, when the product BPI calls “lean finely textured beef” was estimated to be in 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S., the company has been gradually regaining business. The reason is the same one that made finely textured beef successful in the first place: it’s cheap. And lower costs are particularly attractive to processors facing record high prices for ground beef. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average price of ground beef in June was $3.88, up 14% from last year.

For that, you can thank the sustained drought that has gripped much of the American West and Great Plains, including cattle producing regions of Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

“The main issue is the drought,” says Dan Hale, an animal science professor at Texas A&M University. “A lot of the U.S., especially parts that raise cattle, have experienced a severe drought. And those animals are no longer available for producing calves that we can in turn generate for beef trimmings.”

In the summer of 2012, more than 50% of the country was considered in moderate or extreme drought. Those conditions forced ranchers to rush cows to slaughter, which led to fewer calves in the following years and lower head of cattle overall. Meanwhile, demand for beef kept rising, pushing prices higher along with it. With supply down, prices up and memories of the “pink slime” moment fading, the market for finely textured beef is growing again.

BPI makes its product by spinning discarded beef scraps in a centrifuge to separate the lean, edible trimmings and then treating the result with ammonium hydroxide meant to kill food-borne pathogens like E. coli. Processors blend it with other cuts as a cost-saving measure and the product can account for as much as 10% of the meat in a package of ground beef.

“If you can utilize more of the animal, that helps mitigate some of the low supply numbers,” says Lee Schulz, an agricultural economics professor at Iowa State University.

BPI remains embroiled in a a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News over the network’s coverage of its product. The company is now producing close to 1 million lbs. a week. of lean finely textured beef—down from nearly 5.5 million lbs in 2012. But BPI is optimistic that the worst days are behind it. The newly opened Kansas plant will work with global meat processor Tyson Foods, collecting its raw beef trimmings and shipping them to a BPI facility in Nebraska that will process the scraps into profit.

“BPI continues to experience growth and remains confident this growth will continue,” Craig Letch, BPI’s director of food quality and food safety, said in a statement. “This is certainly a step in the right direction.”

TIME justice

California to Fight Ruling Against Death Penalty

California Attorney General Kamala Harris Announces Lawsuit
California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks during a news conference on October 10, 2013 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

State Attorney General Kamala Harris to appeal

California is appealing last month’s federal court ruling that declared the state’s enforcement of the death penalty to be unconstitutional.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris said Thursday that she would appeal the ruling by Judge Cormac Carney of the U.S. Central District of California, who said that the state’s death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Last month, Carney, a Republican-appointed judge in Orange County, vacated the death sentence of Ernest Jones, who was convicted in the 1995 rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother but is still on death row. In a lengthy decision, Carney ruled that uncertainties and delays over executions in the state violated inmates’ constitutional rights.

“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,” Carney wrote. “As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”

The case will now move to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants,” Harris said in a statement. “This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

Only 13 people have been executed in California since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, and no inmate has been executed since 2006. More than 900 are currently on death row in the state.

TIME Crime

California Mayor Urges Cops to Wear Body Cameras After Ferguson

A Los Angeles Police officer wears an on-body camera during a demonstration for media in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2014.
A Los Angeles Police officer wears an on-body camera during a demonstration for media in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2014. Damian Dovargane—AP

Few police departments in the U.S. use body-worn cameras in the field

A California mayor is calling for the city’s police officers to use body-worn cameras following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager that has sparked violent protests in Ferguson, Mo.

In a letter on Friday, Hawthorne Mayor Chris Brown announced that he would introduce an ordinance at next week’s city council meeting mandating all uniformed officers wear cameras on their uniforms.

“I am simply not willing to gamble with a single life, or the wrongful accusation of upstanding officers,” Brown wrote.

The letter comes a week after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police, which has ignited riots and focused the nation’s attention on the St. Louis suburb. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon deployed the National Guard on Monday to help keep order. No recording of Brown’s shooting exists, and some have called for more police units to use body-worn cameras, which capture virtually everything an officer sees.

Only a handful of police departments in the U.S. use wearable cameras, due in part to their expense and the limited evidence showing that they increase transparency and curb police misconduct.

While some law enforcement agencies have praised their use—including officials in Rialto, Calif., who they’ve significantly reduced use of force incidents and complaints filed against its officers—there are very few independent studies demonstrating their effectiveness.

Each camera costs an estimated $800 to $1,000. The police department of Hawthorne, located in Los Angeles County with a population of about 84,000, has roughly 100 officers. Cameras for each could cost the agency upwards of $100,000.

TIME Crime

Why Cops in Ferguson Don’t Have Body Cameras

Ferguson St. Louis Missouri Police Shooting Riots Protests
Police officers keep watch from an armored vehicle as they patrol a street in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 11, 2014 Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

And why cops most everywhere else don't either

The circumstances surrounding the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., are still largely unknown. St. Louis County police say Brown assaulted a Ferguson police officer and tried to take his gun. A witness disputes that account, saying Brown’s hands were raised when an officer fired. But the ongoing investigations by authorities are hamstrung in part by the fact that no video exists of the incident. Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson said Wednesday that while the department has two dashcams, neither have been installed in police vehicles.

And Ferguson police, like most law-enforcement agencies around the country, doesn’t utilize a technology that could have brought some clarity to the incident: body-worn cameras, which only a small number of police departments around the U.S. have deployed.

In the past few years, police departments in Fresno, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Salt Lake City; Cincinnati and others have begun experimenting with small, wearable cameras that, once turned on, record virtually everything the officer is seeing.

Last week, New York City public advocate Letitia James called for police officers there to use body-worn cameras as a way of keeping a check on police misconduct after the death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. And since Ferguson, there are scattered calls for more departments to use them. The problem, law-enforcement officials and experts say, is that these cameras are expensive — and there’s limited evidence detailing their effectiveness.

But several departments have found success in utilizing them.

“We see our officers acting more professional when they’re using them,” says William Farrar, the police chief of the Rialto Police Department in California, which has body-worn cameras for nearly 80 officers. “And once the citizens know they’re being videotaped, a majority of the time, the situation tends to de-escalate because they know they’re being recorded.”

The Rialto police began testing body-worn cameras in the field in 2012. In the first 12 months, the department saw an 88% decline in complaints filed against its officers compared with the year before and a 60% reduction in use-of-force incidents. Farrar says the agency has also saved time by not having to conduct as many investigations into use-of-force incidents, and the department has seen a decrease in court costs because more suspects are agreeing to plea bargains because of indisputable video evidence.

But Rialto is an outlier. While departments in Phoenix and Mesa, Ariz., also appear to have found success with cameras, there isn’t much hard evidence that they increase transparency among law-enforcement agencies while curbing police misconduct.

“There’s very little available research,” says Mike White, an Arizona State University criminology professor who recently completed a survey for the Department of Justice regarding the cameras, largely finding that he couldn’t recommend them for police departments based on the evidence.

Currently, there are only five completed studies that look at the effects of body-worn cameras, many of which vary in their methodologies. In Rialto, for instance, White argues that while there is anecdotal evidence that suspects change behavior and become less hostile when they know they’re being videotaped, it’s just one study of one police unit that was conducted internally and not verified by an outside agency or researcher. Also, while citizens in Rialto filed fewer complaints regarding officer conduct during the study, White says those complaints might have gone down because citizens — knowing that they were recorded — realized their complaint would be frivolous, not necessarily because police conduct had shifted.

The cost is often prohibitive for many agencies as well, with the cameras themselves costing about $800 to $1,000, along with varied costs for departments to store the data.

There are, however, a number of ongoing studies. Barak Ariel, a lecturer at both the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Cambridge University in the U.K. who has worked with Rialto police, is involved in 30 tests of body-worn cameras among about a dozen police forces in the U.S., Europe, Israel, Northern Ireland and Uruguay, in which half the officers are equipped with cameras. Ariel says he sees preliminary evidence that they act as a deterrent on aggressive behavior.

“We don’t know whether the camera’s working on the civilian or the police officer,” Ariel says. “Maybe both. But we know it’s a deterrent. We just don’t know in which direction.”

White does say that the early evidence on wearable cameras for police is promising, and it’s something that might have been able to change the facts on the ground in Ferguson.

“We don’t know which account is accurate,” White says, referring to the disputed stories from St. Louis police and witnesses. “With body-worn cameras, we would have a permanent video record that could be viewed immediately that would tell everybody what happened.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence yet to say that those types of encounters could be avoided,” White adds. “But I couldn’t help but think, what would’ve happened if the officer was wearing a body-worn camera?”

TIME Crime

Ohio Still Isn’t Ready to Start Killing People Again

Oklahoma Execution Protocols
Bottles of midazolam at a hospital pharmacy in Oklahoma City. Midazolam is the common thread in three recent lengthly executions in Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona, July 25, 2014. Sue Ogrocki—AP

A federal judge has delayed three planned executions amid ongoing legal challenges

A moratorium on executions in Ohio that was set to expire this week has been extended by a federal judge, halting future lethal injections in the state at least until next year.

On Aug. 8, Judge Gregory Frost issued a one-page order extending the moratorium, the Associated Press reports. The temporary freeze was put in place after the prolonged execution of Dennis McGuire, who was sentenced to death for a 1989 rape and murder. In January, McGuire appeared to gasp and snore after being given a two-drug combination of midazolam and hydromorphone that had not been previously used in a lethal injection.

In April, Ohio announced that it would increase the dosages of the two execution drugs. The following month, Frost issued a temporary stay of executions as the state re-examined its lethal injection protocol. The latest order delays three planned executions for September, October and November as legal challenges continue over the two-drug method.

McGuire’s lethal injection was the first of three executions around the U.S. this year that appeared to go awry. In April, the convicted killer Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack after writhing and twitching following his injection with an untested blend of drugs. And on July 23rd, Arizona’s execution of convicted murderer Joseph Wood, using the same drug protocol as Ohio did for McGuire, lasted nearly two hours.

TIME cities

Cities Get Their Goats to Be Newest Employees

A goat gives birth at the Iowa State Fair on August 6, 2014 in Des Moines, Iowa.
A goat gives birth at the Iowa State Fair on August 6, 2014 in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson—Getty Images

The animals are now seen as a cost-effective and eco-friendly way for towns to clear areas of unwanted vegetation

American cities big and small are turning to an unlikely new kind of employee in hopes of saving money and improving local streets and parks.

Last month, Boston became the latest city to introduce goats to its workforce as six of the cloven cud-chewers began making a meal of poison ivy and weeds, opening up the latest frontier in urban goatscaping, which has been spreading around the country like so many weeds that the goats have been hired to destroy.

“They’re eating almost everything but the ferns,” says Boston Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Ryan Woods about Cole, Chester, Christopher, Cassandra, Dalia and Delia—Alpine and LaMancha goats hired to munch through all sorts of unwanted vegetation that have made parts of an area park virtually impassable for humans. The rate for the goat sextet is $2,800 for the eight-week project, one normally reserved for Hazmat suit-wearing humans. It’s being funded through the non-profit Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation, and the group’s executive director Mat Thall estimates that the job performed by regular workers could cost upwards of $8,000.

Goats have become an increasingly cost-effective and eco-friendly way for cities, parks and natural resources departments, and private property owners to clear areas of unwanted vegetation. Outside of Philadelphia, Haverford College has hired goats from the Maryland-based goat purveyor Eco-Goats to eat invasive vines and shrubs. A Madison, Wisconsin-based company called The Green Goats has recently rented the animals out to suburban parks around Chicago. In Victoria, Texas, goats have been unleashed to clear brush in the town’s Riverside Park. Thirty goats were dispatched in a Pittsburgh park to eat weeds and invasive vines, and more than 100 goats were recently used to consume blackberry bushes behind a mall in Lynnwood, Wash.

“If they’re managed properly, goats are a great tool to get in places that are almost impossible to get into with chemicals,” says Ray Holes, who’s been renting out goats in western U.S. towns and cities for close to two decades and is widely known as the Goat King. “And on the whole, it’s probably cheaper, too.”

Goats have a knack for eating all the vegetation humans don’t want around while leaving the good stuff, like grasses, and they can often be trained to acquire a palette for certain invasive species. Goats can eat about 4% of their body weight a day by gobbling up a number of woody plants that are anathema to humans, like nettles, poison ivy, buckthorn and wild parsnip.

While there are dozens of goat-renting companies throughout the U.S., Holes’ is the single biggest purveyor of goats in the country and is considered the Goat King for a very good reason—he owns 9,000 of them that are almost continuously on the job throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Holes charges anywhere from 75 cents to $3 per goat per day depending on where they work and the kind of munching they’re required to do. And he’s increasingly taken on inner city jobs throughout the the western U.S. In the Los Angeles neighborhood of Sun Valley, for example, Holes recently brought in goats to clear areas near hiking and biking trails.

But the most common job for goats is often creating fire breaks—areas made barren of any natural flammable materials. We Rent Goats, a smaller Wilder, Idaho-based business that does exactly what its name says, often works with power companies around the state in clearing those areas. Co-owner Lynda Linquist says 100 of her goats can eat through an acre a day, and they’re almost always a hit.

“Anytime we bring goats in, usually people are thrilled,” Linquist says. “Some will throw huge parties that are tented and catered.”

Linquist, along with her husband Tim, currently rent out 700 goats, mostly to cities that often need help with just a few acres at a time. (We Rent Goats charges $375 an acre.) The goats are generally kept in place by temporary electric fences. But they’re not goat-proof. In Boise, Idaho, about 500 of Linquist’s animals recently got loose.

“They’re goofy gals,” Linquist says. “They’ve busted out of fences. Sometimes they’ll push each other down and steal what the other one’s eating. Sometimes they’ll just go stand in the middle of the road. You’ve got to be thinking one step ahead of them.”

And they’re not always a welcome sight. In June, a hedge fund manager brought in 20 goats to eat through overgrown weeds on abandoned lots in Detroit, but the animals were kicked out two days later by public officials. (It’s illegal to have farm animals within Detroit’s limits.)

And there are at least a handful of landscapers upset by the growing goatscaping economy, as highlighted by The Colbert Report.

Holes, the Goat King, says about half his clients these days are public entities. And he says his business would be even bigger if it wasn’t so difficult finding managers who not only knew how to wrangle hundreds of goats but were also willing to be on the road for weeks or months at a time.

“We have people calling us constantly wanting us to bring our goats in,” Holes says. “But you have to be willing to be away from home. The goats don’t care your kids are having a birthday.”

 

TIME Crime

Missouri Executing Inmates at Record Pace

Michael Worthington is pictured in this handout photo
Michael Worthington, convicted in the 1995 rape and murder of a St. Louis woman, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday. Reuters—Missouri Department of Corrections

Backlogged cases are working their way through the system

Updated 6:58 a.m. E.T. on Aug. 6

An execution Wednesday in Missouri brought the state’s pace of executions near record levels, at a time when problems with lethal injections around the U.S. have led to growing scrutiny of the method.

Death row inmate Michael Worthington was put to death early Wednesday, the first in the U.S. since the nearly two-hour-long execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona that again raised questions about the humaneness of lethal injections. It was the seventh this year for Missouri, the most since 2001.

The execution of Worthington—convicted in 1995 of murdering and raping a St. Louis woman—put Missouri alongside Texas and Florida, which lead the country in executions this year at seven each. The three states combined have now executed 21 of the 27 inmates put to death in 2014. The number of executions this year has been accelerated thanks to a combination of backlogged cases now making their way through the system, inmate appeals that have been exhausted in court, and conservative judicial appointments at the state and federal level.

“It’s kind of a perfect storm,” says Sean O’Brien, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who studies capital punishment.

Missouri had already executed 76 inmates since 1976, the year the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, making it fifth among U.S. states behind Texas (511), Oklahoma (111), Virginia (110) and Florida (88).

The most inmates Missouri has executed in one year is nine in 1999. In 2001, it executed seven. But just a few years ago, executions in Missouri were rare. From 2006 to 2012, the state executed just two inmates as it struggled to obtain lethal injection drugs, partly because European pharmaceutical companies began restricting the sale of their products for use in capital punishment.

In May 2012, Missouri announced that it would switch to propofol, an anesthetic. It was the only state to do so, but Missouri never used it. Gov. Jay Nixon stopped the planned lethal injection of Allen Nicklasson in October after the European Union threatened to limit propofol’s export if it was used by prison systems in executions. Fresnius Kabi, a German-based pharmaceutical company, makes the drug—the same drug on which pop star Michael Jackson overdosed in 2009.

In October 2013, the state announced it would start using just one drug—the sedative pentobarbital, and the following month used it in the lethal injection of Joseph Franklin in November and Nicklasson in December. Earlier this year, the Missouri Times reported that the state department of corrections paid $11,000 in cash to obtain the drug from a compounding pharmacy, which is unregulated by the federal government.

Now that the state appears to have an adequate supply of pentobarbital, O’Brien says a backlog of cases is now moving through the system. And inmates’ constitutional challenges are finding little sympathy from federal courts.

“We’re seeing winning motions for requests for stays of execution at the trial level, but the Eighth Circuit vacates those routinely,” O’Brien says, referring to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and adding that a number of conservative judges appointed by President George W. Bush often reverse lower court rulings.

Nixon, a Democrat and death penalty supporter, has also been unwilling to grant clemency in lethal injection cases, many of which the governor worked on as an attorney general for the state.

“He hasn’t ruled on a lot of the clemency petitions before him,” says Susan McGraugh, a St. Louis University law professor. “But the simple answer for why these executions are moving forward is because they can.”

Worthington’s attorneys were still working Tuesday to get a stay of execution through last-minute appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has been largely unwilling to grant stays to death row inmates who argue that their executions shouldn’t go forward based on Eighth Amendment claims. Worthington’s lawyers were attempting to get a stay until a decision is reached in a case in front of the Eighth Circuit brought by Worthington and 14 other Missouri death row inmates who are challenging the secrecy of where the state obtains execution drugs while arguing that lethal injection violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court is scheduled to hear the case in early September.

Missouri has yet to be involved in a recent execution gone awry. One massive dose of a drug like pentobarbital has so far appeared to be a more effective way of administering lethal injection than a two-drug combination. The botched executions of Dennis McGuire in Ohio in January and Joseph Wood in Arizona in July both used a two-drug combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. But Kent Gipson, an attorney for Worthington, thinks that Missouri will join those states soon enough.

“It’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong in one of these in Missouri,” Gipson says. “There’s a bigger risk of it happening when it’s all under a veil of secrecy and from an unknown source that isn’t tested.”

TIME Religion

Texas Law: Thou Shalt Not Place 10 Commandments Signs Along Highways

The 10 Commandments sign near Hemphill, Texas, has been deemed illegal by the Texas Department of Transportation. Michael Berry—Liberty Institute

An illegal posting of the 10 Commandments has forced Texas transportation officials to rethink a law barring speech on private property

Along rural Highway 21 in East Texas, where cell phone service is patchy at best and the nearest major town is over an hour away, an unassuming 10 Commandments sign sits near an advertisement for a mattress store and a roadside stand hawking jams and jellies. The signs promoting commercial ventures are lawful. The 10 Commandments placard is not.

In August 2013, Jeanette Golden—who pastors a small community church in nearby Hemphill—erected the sign after a couple in her church wanted to do the same but had nowhere to put it. She didn’t think anything of it until earlier this year. That’s when the Texas Department of Transportation sent her a removal notice saying the religious poster was against the law.

“My reaction was told shock,” Golden says via email. “And I immediately felt like they were trying to invade my personal privacy and strip me of my freedom of speech and my freedom of religion. I wondered what law I had broken.”

The broken law was a Department of Transportation code prohibiting signs on personal property, part of state regulations written to comply with the federal Highway Beautification Act that dates back to the 1960s, designed to regulate advertising along Interstates and federally funded highways. But it was a little-known regulation, one that’s raised the ire of many in this deeply-red state that prides itself on individual freedom and religious liberty.

“It was a head-scratching moment,” says the Liberty Institute’s Michael Berry, when he first heard about the banned sign. “The state allows commercial speech but not private speech—even if it’s religiously motivated—on private property.”

The institute, which began representing Golden in April, sent a letter to the department demanding the rule be rescinded, arguing that the code violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Texas Constitution and the First Amendment. Since then, the agency has put the removal notice on hold and hasn’t done anything to force Golden to remove it.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Veronica Beyer says officials are currently in the process of rewriting the codes “not for just this case, but for future cases,” and says officials are looking into creating a new classification that would exempt signs that are no bigger than 96 sq. ft. in size, sit on private property and do not promote a business. (Golden’s sign is 72 sq. ft.)

“It’s not a done deal, but this is definitely an exemption that would work in her favor and for a lot other private property owners,” Beyer says, adding that the department doesn’t “regulate content.”

“TxDOT is always concerned about honoring the constitutionally protected rights of its citizens, so property rights, free speech rights and religious rights are always considered important factors,” she says.

The transportation commission will vote on the new regulations at the end of August.

Meanwhile, along Highway 21, Golden’s sign remains in limbo near the legal commercial placards hawking gas and fruit. Residents near Hemphill have been vocal about supporting Golden. A local printing company has created 10 Commandments T-shirts in response. Others in the area are donating money to help support the sign and overturn the law. Golden believes officials will approve the changes, and her 10 Commandments sign will stay put.

“I believe in my heart there will be a change in the rules that will allow me to keep up my sign,” Golden says. “I’m a woman of faith and I believe what it says at the bottom of my sign: With God all things are possible.”

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