TIME justice

Execution Gone Awry Prompts Concern Over Dubious Lethal-Injection Drugs

Arizona Execution Drugs
With the state prison in the background, about a dozen death-penalty opponents pray as they await the execution of Joseph Wood in Florence, Ariz., on July 23, 2014 Associated Press

Many states won't disclose how they obtain the chemicals used in lethal injections, bringing into question the constitutionality of recent executions

There are just over 3,000 prisoners on death row in the U.S., and 32 states where their execution remains a legal course of action. The decision to implement capital punishment in these states is generally accepted as constitutional, so long as its procedure is in line with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel-and-unusual punishment.

The execution of Arizona inmate Joseph R. Wood III on Wednesday took nearly two hours to complete, over much of which Wood “gasped and struggled to breathe,” according to a statement released by his defense team. Of the 26 state-sponsored executions committed in the U.S. so far this year, Wood’s was the third to seemingly go awry due to the use of largely experimental lethal chemicals, prompting outrage from those who cite these incidents as evidence that capital punishment is not constitutionally viable given the apparent suffering of its recipients.

“His two-hour struggle to death goes beyond cruel and unusual. It’s torment. It’s something you’d see in third-world and uncivilized societies,” Arizona state senator Ed Ableser told TIME on Wednesday night. “It’s embarrassing to see that our state once again is in the news for everything that is wrong that happens in our government.”

The execution should have lasted no more than 15 minutes; when it became clear to witnesses that Wood’s death would be prolonged, his attorneys unsuccessfully filed an emergency appeal to end the proceedings, the final of several attempts to save his life. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court had approved the execution after a lower court ruled that Arizona, in refusing to declare how it had obtained the lethal chemicals to be used in the injection, may have violated Wood’s First Amendment rights.

In Woods’ execution, the state used a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone — the same cocktail used by the state of Ohio in the execution of Dennis McGuire in January, in which the inmate floundered and wheezed on a gurney for nearly half an hour before the state pronounced him dead.

In a statement released after Wood’s death, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said she was “concerned by the length of time” it took for the injection to kill him, and that she has instructed the state’s Department of Corrections to investigate the matter thoroughly.

It’s still not certain whether Woods indeed suffered pain — state officials have insisted that he was comatose throughout the process — but in any case, his prolonged death draws further attention to the efficacy of the lethal chemicals used for capital punishment in the U.S., one of the world’s last developed nations to still punish its worst criminals with death.

States have been struggling to devise new lethal chemicals to be used in capital punishment since 2011, when U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies ceased to manufacture and sell sodium thiopental, an anesthetic compound that has traditionally been essential to America’s execution cocktails. It has been a process of trial and error, of learning from mistakes. The mistakes are those execution attempts that do not transpire according to plan — typically marked by a death that comes more slowly and viscerally than anticipated.

In recent months, the hesitation of certain states to disclose information about the new chemicals has fueled a public skepticism over the exact physiological effects of these drugs on those to whom they’re administered.

“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 released after Wood’s death. “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.”

Nearly a third of all executions involving the sedative used to kill Wood “have had extremely troubling problems,” according to a report released last month by the Death Penalty Information Center.

“Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution,” defense attorney Dale Baich told the press. “The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”

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 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

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 justice

Oklahoma Death Row Inmates Sue to Stop Executions

Clayton Lockett, who was scheduled to be executed on March 20, 2014 in the 1999 shooting death of Stephanie Nieman.
Clayton Lockett, who was scheduled to be executed on March 20, 2014 in the 1999 shooting death of Stephanie Nieman. Oklahoma Department of Corrections/AP

After the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April

A group of death row inmates in Oklahoma sued state officials in federal court Wednesday over what they called “unsound procedures” in the state’s execution process.

Citing the botched execution of Clayton Locket and other incidents, more than 20 plaintiffs filed suit claiming Oklahoma’s current method of execution violates the constitutional rights of the condemned. The lawsuit names several corrections officials as defendants, as well as unnamed people such as “Doctor X” and “Paramedic Y” to identify officials that take part in executions.

The plaintiffs assert that the state uses unsound procedures to administer executions and unsound drugs, adding up to a violation of the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. under the 8th Amendment.

“We look forward to the full airing of the important issues raised in this case through the discovery process,” Dale Baich, an attorney for one of the death row prisoners, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections declined to comment on the matter, telling TIME: “We don’t comment on pending lawsuits.”

States around the country, including Oklahoma, have faced scrutiny in recent years as a shortage of the drugs used in lethal injections has forced officials to look to alternative sources to secure the cocktail of chemicals meant to painlessly kill a convict.

In the 25 minutes it took him to die, Lockett was observed mumbling and rolling his head side to side, apparently in agony. His seemingly agonizing death in April sparked a national outcry about capital punishment.

In January, another man, Michael Wilson, said “I feel my whole body burning,” during the procedure. Anti-death penalty activists have pointed to these examples as evidence that the punishment cannot be carried out humanely. For a time in the wake of Lockett’s death, a de facto moratorium on executions across the country was in place, as officials scrambled to ensure the botched procedure was not repeated. Georgia, Florida and Missouri were the first states to end the unofficial moratorium earlier this month.

TIME Crime

Drug Challenges Are Failing to Halt Executions

Marcus Wellons
Marcus Wellons, convicted of raping and murdering a 15-year-old girls, was executed Tuesday. Wellons was the first inmate put to death in the United States since a botched execution in Oklahoma in April. AP

Courts remain skeptical of legal arguments challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection drugs and their origins

The execution of two inmates late Tuesday night after multiple attempts to halt their lethal injections reveals at least one thing: challenging the constitutionality of executions on the grounds that the origin of the drugs is unknown is failing to gain traction.

Georgia executed Marcus Wellons, convicted of the 1989 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, on Tuesday using the sedative pentobarbital. About an hour later, Missouri used the same drug to execute John Winfield, convicted in the 1996 murder of two women. Both states have refused to reveal where they obtained the drug, but it’s likely they received it from compounding pharmacies, which are not subject to the same regulations as drug manufacturers. The executions, which appeared to go as planned, were the first following the botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett in Ohio in April. Since then, nine executions have been stayed or postponed.

In the last few weeks, lawyers for Wellons and Winfield have tried to stop their lethal injections in part by arguing that the secret origins of the drugs being used risked violating the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Lawyers argue that drugs manufactured by compounding pharmacies behind closed doors and with little oversight risk contamination, which could lead to a prolonged or painful death. Inmates around the country are challenging their pending executions based largely on the drugs’ hidden origins and are more often than not running into courts that are unreceptive.

Southern Methodist University law professor Meghan Ryan says many courts are generally skeptical of attempts to halt executions and hesitant to rule on an issue where there’s little precedent from the Supreme Court.

“The arguments being made don’t really track with Supreme Court precedent very well, and a lot of courts are unwilling to make that jump,” Ryan says. “It’s forging into a new area.”

The Supreme Court ruled lethal injection constitutional in 2008, but drug protocols have changed in most states since then. Many pharmaceutical companies have banned sales of drugs to states for executions, forcing prisons to look elsewhere.

Still, Ryan adds that death row inmates have nothing to lose by challenging their executions.

“Maybe they have very good arguments, but courts often view them skeptically because they’re often considered last-ditch efforts,” she says.

Florida plans to execute John Ruthell Henry, convicted of killing his wife and her son, Wednesday evening. A federal appeals court has rejected a bid to delay his execution.

TIME Crime

Report: Executioner Errors Led to Botched Lethal Injection

A mugshot of Clayton Lockett on June 29, 2011.
A mugshot of Clayton Lockett on June 29, 2011. Oklahoma Department of Corrections/EPA

Preliminary autopsy findings show that officials damaged Lockett's veins during execution

Oklahoma prison officials failed to properly place IVs in Clayton Lockett’s veins after numerous attempts, according to preliminary autopsy findings released Friday. The death row inmate’s execution made national headlines and became a rallying cry for death penalty opponents.

While many of lethal injection’s problems have focused on the drugs being used, it appears that Lockett’s execution went awry due to the actual administration of those drugs. The autopsy found that Lockett’s arms and thighs showed evidence of skin and needle punctures. IVs are typically administered through the arms, but according to the autopsy, Oklahoma’s executioners appear to have failed in accessing his veins and as an alternative attempted to deliver the fatal drugs through his femoral arteries, located in the thighs.

The autopsy found that Lockett’s veins were not damaged prior to the execution and stated that there was “excellent integrity of peripheral and deep veins for the purpose of achieving venous access.” There was also evidence of “vascular injury indicative of failed vascular catheter access,” meaning the executioners actually damaged Lockett’s veins during the attempted execution. The drugs likely leaked into his surrounding tissues rather than going directly into his bloodstream, causing a much more prolonged death.

Lockett’s execution lasted 45 minutes.

The postmortem was conducted after Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin called for an investigation into the April 29 execution. President Obama asked the U.S. attorney general to look into the problems surrounding lethal injection following Lockett’s death as well.

A series of lawsuits around the country have challenged lethal injection methods based on the drugs’ origins, which are often kept secret. Many states have had trouble obtaining execution drugs lately and have turned to new mixtures which are loosely regulated and not overseen by the federal government. But the Lockett execution may put more of a spotlight on the actual training of executioners, which is also a concern for many who challenge lethal injection’s constitutionality. The amount and quality of training which executioners receive is often unclear.

The preliminary autopsy findings did not confirm whether Lockett died of a heart attack, which state officials claimed at the time. A full report is due within the next few weeks.

TIME justice

Newspapers Sue Missouri Over Execution-Drug Secrecy

The Guardian is one of the newspapers suing Missouri's department of corrections to force the state to reveal where it’s acquiring controversial drugs being used to execute death-row inmates Suzanne Plunkett—Reuters

The Guardian, the Associated Press and three local newspapers have joined forces in the growing controversy over death-penalty transparency. The lawsuit challenges Missouri's refusal — new as of October last year — to disclose the source of execution drugs

A group of five newspapers announced Thursday they’re suing the Missouri department of corrections to force the state to reveal where it’s acquiring controversial drugs being used to execute death-row inmates.

“Historically, information about the drugs used by [the department of corrections] in lethal injection executions was routinely made available to the public. In October 2013, DOC unilaterally changed course and began to deny all public access to this information,” the suit alleges. “Without this information, the public cannot provide meaningful oversight of the executions that the state of Missouri conducts in its name.”

The suit is the latest volley in an ongoing tug-of-war between inmates, media, transparency advocates and death-penalty states over whether governments can keep secret the identities of businesses that provide drugs used to execute convicts on death row. European restrictions on exporting drugs used in executions have caused supplies to dwindle in recent years, prompting states to seek alternatives elsewhere that may be to blame for a series of botched executions of late. States have resisted calls to reveal the source of the alternative drugs.

According to the Guardian, 13 states have changed their laws and statutes to protect drugmakers’ anonymity. But so far, legal challenges to make lethal-injection executions more transparent have failed. In Georgia, a challenge to the state’s shield law is awaiting a decision by the state supreme court. In Texas a district court rejected an appeal regarding its secrecy law involving death-row inmate Robert James Campbell. (His execution was later stayed after his lawyers successfully argued that Campbell’s low IQ made him ineligible for capital punishment.)

In Oklahoma the state supreme court ruled its secrecy law constitutional after months of back-and-forth within the state’s judicial system, allowing the eventual execution of death-row inmate Clayton Lockett to go forward. The execution, which took place a few days after that decision, went awry as Lockett jerked and twitched after prison officials had trouble locating a vein to administer lethal-injection drugs. Lockett eventually died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.

The lawsuit brought by Associated Press, the Guardian, the Kansas City Star, the Springfield News Leader and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch challenges Missouri’s refusal — new as of October last year — to disclose the source of execution drugs. Missouri has refused to disclose its source on the grounds that pharmacies that provide them are part of the execution team and thus protected under the state’s “Black Hood Law.”

A total of 41 inmates currently await execution on Missouri’s death row.

TIME Crime

Creator of Lethal Injection Method: ‘I Don’t See Anything That Is More Humane’

Dr. Jay Chapman at his home on May 8, 2007, in Napa, Calif.
Dr. Jay Chapman at his home on May 8, 2007, in Napa, Calif. Ben Margot—AP

Dr. Jay Chapman developed the first lethal injection protocol four decades ago and it was eventually adopted in nearly every state with the death penalty. In a rare interview, Chapman reflects on his involvement, lethal injection's current problems and more

Dr. Jay Chapman is often called the “father of lethal injection.” The three-drug combination used in virtually every state with capital punishment over the last few decades is sometimes called “Chapman’s Protocol.” Chapman, however, sees things much differently.

In 1977, an Oklahoma state legislator asked Chapman – who was the state’s medical examiner at the time – to devise an execution method that would be more humane than those that came before it. Within days, he recommended a three-drug combination – the sedative sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide as a paralytic agent, and potassium chloride to stop the heart – that became standard throughout the U.S. But Chapman never set out to fundamentally change the way America puts its inmates to death. “That was a blip, a very, very minor blip on the work that I did,” he says.

In the last few years, that drug combination has slowly combusted, in part because it’s become difficult for states to get their hands on those drugs. Many prisons are now experimenting with new drugs and new drug combinations while turning to unregulated compounding pharmacies to obtain them. Almost four decades since his involvement, Chapman, 75, looks back on formulating the first lethal injection cocktail.

“I don’t see anything that is more humane,” he says of the treatment.

Chapman spoke to TIME for a story on the problems with lethal injection in this week’s magazine. Below is an edited version of the interview.

How did you first become involved in lethal injection?

[Oklahoma State] Rep. Bill Wiseman called me one day and asked if I had suggestions about a more humane way that inmates could be executed. This came on the heels of the Gary Gilmore execution [the first death row inmate to be executed after the Supreme Court lifted a four-year moratorium], which was a real media circus. Our feeling about it was that we put animals to death more humanely than we do people.

Why did you recommend that three-drug combination?

It was the procedure for anesthesia at the time. What we did was just carry it to extremes.

You weren’t a licensed anesthesiologist.

Of course not. But there was a doctor, Stanley Deutsch, who was an anesthesiologist, and he looked at this protocol. We also had a toxicologist in the medical examiner’s office with whom we consulted concerning the amounts of drugs that should be given. If the drugs were administered appropriately, there was not a single chance that any of these inmates could be aware of what was happening. People have the criticism of, Well, no testing has been done on these drugs. Well, now just what kind of testing do they want? Do they want someone to go out and take a bunch of prisoners and see how much it takes to execute or what? The idea of testing these drugs, it’s just a ridiculous notion as far as I’m concerned.

Did it worry you that they were going to be used in prisons, not hospitals?

I never imagined when we wrote the law that anyone who was not qualified to administer these drugs or had been educated as to how to administer them would do it. People can be trained to do these things and trained adequately so that the things can be administered properly, and I think that’s where the system has fallen apart.

You’ve been quoted in the past saying just one drug – a sedative like sodium thiopental – in a massive dose would suffice. Do you still believe that?

It was not a necessary drug, but it was used in the protocol for the anesthesia, so that was the only reason it was included. It wasn’t absolutely necessary except for one drug, the thiopental, administered in a massive overdose.

Would you recommended just one drug today?

Well, knowing now that people who obviously were not prepared or trained sufficiently to administer the protocol, it would’ve been a much simpler thing to just administer a single drug. Laws are often enacted but get applied in ways that one would never imagine, and they have unintended effects. So never imagining that the drugs would not be administered appropriately, that’s the reason the protocol was set up as it was. One drug would certainly have been sufficient, and the thiopental would’ve been the drug.

Why didn’t states do that?

I don’t know. I guess they just blindly followed it.

Are you following what’s happening with lethal injection today?

Oh, vaguely. I read it in the papers, when I see it in the media.

You believe the main problem with lethal injection now is the training of those who are administering it.

With the things that have happened, it seems to me that in virtually every case that I have ever read about, it was a problem with the carrying out, the people who had administered the drugs and so forth.

Do you think lethal injection is on its way out?

The sense that I get from it is that it’s becoming almost politically incorrect to be pro-death penalty. But I think that maybe the death penalty itself is going to go away and they won’t have to be concerned with the method by which it would be carried out. I have not had a particular problem with the death penalty because over so many years of doing examinations of victims of these people who have been convicted of these crimes and seeing the horrors that have gone on with some of the victims, I haven’t had a particular problem with the death penalty.

Do you believe lethal injection is still the most humane way of carrying out an execution?

It does to me, if it’s administered correctly. I don’t see anything that is more humane.

What do you think about all this when you reflect on your role in it?

I’m tired of talking about it, frankly, because my purpose in Oklahoma was to establish a system for the investigation of human death. That was my legacy to Oklahoma because we got the system changed from a line item in the health department to a firmly established independent agency of government with facilities in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. This was my purpose in Oklahoma. My purpose in Oklahoma had nothing to do with lethal injection, but yet everybody thinks what I was doing was lethal injection. That was a blip, a very, very minor blip on the work that I did there.

But that’s what’s had such a lasting effect around the country.

Yeah, but I had no idea. I had absolutely no concept at the time. I was very young. I was not educated in the ways of legislators. I had no idea there was the communication between the states that exist in different areas. This business of lethal injection was a pure sidelight, and the only reason I got involved was at the request of the legislator who was interested in a more humane method of execution, and this is what I suggested. And at the time when I suggested it, I had no idea, not in my wildest flight of fancy would I have ever thought that it would’ve mushroomed into what it did. People say, ‘Chapman’s protocol.’ It wasn’t my protocol! It was the legislator’s protocol.

Do you wish you wouldn’t have gotten involved at all?

Oh, well, I can’t undo history. I got involved at [Oklahoma Rep.] Wiseman’s request. Would I do it differently if I had to do over again? I don’t know. It’s hard to say what you would do. Under the same circumstances, I’d probably do the same thing.


Every Execution in U.S. History in a Single Map


Read “Lethal Injection’s Fatal Flaws” from the May 26, 2014 issue of TIME.

Before his lethal injection was delayed at the eleventh hour by a federal appeals court Tuesday, Robert James Campbell was scheduled to become the 1,231st person to be executed by Texas since it joined the Union in 1845.

As Josh Sanburn writes in the magazine this week, capital punishment in the United States is at a crossroads as some states are having a difficult time finding the chemicals required for lethal injections.

The map above shows every legal execution by a state since 1776. Drag the red triangle to view the data at any point in time, or hit play to watch the map animate. Shrewd readers will note that the total figure in the lower righthand corner is significantly lower than the total in TIME’s chart of executions by method. This map only shows executions administered at the state level, not those implemented by the federal government or the military. Michigan, for example, has never executed someone since attaining statehood, but was the site to one federal execution.

Data for historical executions through 1976 are derived from research conducted by M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smykla. Data since the end of the hiatus come from the Death Penalty Information Center.

The source code for this project is available on Time’s GitHub page.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser