TIME Crime

Missouri Executes Man for 1996 Killing of Sheriff’s Deputy

Cecil Clayton, 74, March 6, 2015, Missouri's oldest death row inmate.
Missouri Department of Corrections/AP Cecil Clayton, 74, Missouri's oldest death row inmate on March 6, 2015

Cecil Clayton was Missouri's oldest death-row inmate

(BONNE TERRE, Mo.) — Missouri’s oldest death row inmate was executed Tuesday for the 1996 shooting death of a sheriff’s deputy, after the U.S. Supreme Court and the governor declined to spare the 74-year-old whose attorneys said he had a diminished mental capacity because of a sawmill accident decades ago.

Cecil Clayton was put to death by lethal injection after Gov. Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the nation’s high court turned aside appeals claiming Clayton was mentally incompetent. The Missouri Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, already had declined to intervene, with the court’s majority concluding last weekend there was no evidence Clayton — despite his brain injury — wasn’t capable of understanding his circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court was also divided, with four judges saying they would have granted a stay.

Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said in a statement that Clayton was executed at 9:13 p.m. and pronounced dead at 9:21 p.m.

The claim of diminished mental capacity stemmed from a 1972 sawmill accident that Clayton’s attorneys argued cost him about 8 percent of his brain, including one-fifth of the frontal lobe portion governing impulse control and judgment.

Combined with his reported IQ of 71 and reading skills of a fourth-grader, Clayton’s attorneys insisted psychiatric evaluations over the past decade concluded that the inmate didn’t understand the significance of his scheduled execution or the reasons for it, making him ineligible to be put to death under state and federal law.

In their 11th-hour appeals, Clayton’s attorneys argued that his deteriorating mental health left him convinced his conviction was a plot against him and that God would rescue him from a death sentence at the last minute, “after which time he will travel the country playing the piano and preaching the gospel.”

Clayton was convicted of gunning down Christopher Castetter, a sheriff’s deputy in rural southwest Missouri’s Barry County. Castetter was 29 and a father of three when he went to a home near Cassville on Thanksgiving Eve 1996 to check on a suspicious vehicle report. Authorities said Clayton shot Castetter once in the forehead while the deputy was in his car, which was found against a tree, its engine racing and wheels spinning.

Clayton’s brother had testified that the sawmill accident led to Clayton’s breakup from his wife, alcohol abuse and violent outbursts.

The lethal injection, Clayton’s attorneys said, was “sure or very likely to cause excruciating or tortuous pain and needless suffering” in light of his dementia.

“If Missouri proceeds with its scheduled execution of Mr. Clayton, it will be conducting an unregulated experiment on a human subject, as there are no studies that support (the prison system’s) use of Missouri’s lethal injection protocol on an individual suffering from severe brain damage,” the appeals on Clayton’s behalf argued.

Clayton’s claims of mental incompetence mirrored those of Ricky Ray Rector, who was executed in 1992 in Arkansas for the shooting death 11 years earlier of a police officer. Rector was 40 when he was put to death, having failed to sway then-Gov. Bill Clinton — campaigning for what at the time later became his first presidential term — that he was left brain-damaged by a self-inflicted bullet wound prior to his arrest.

The execution was Missouri’s second this year after the state’s record 10 in 2014. It was also the first Missouri carried out in the evening after decades of having them just after midnight.

TIME Egypt

Egypt Court Sentences 14 Islamists to Death

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie in Cairo, Egypt, May 18, 2014.
Ahmed Gamil—AP Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie in Cairo on May 18, 2014

Egypt has sentenced to death Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and 13 other members of the banned party

(CAIRO) — Egypt’s official news agency says a criminal court has sentenced 14 people, including the leader of the country’s banned Muslim Brotherhood, to death.

The Giza Criminal Court issued its decision on Monday, however the court set an April 11 date to formally issue the ruling after consulting with the country’s grand mufti; the mufti reviews all death penalty cases, but his ruling is not binding.

The case is rooted in violence that swept the country after the military-led ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, whose supporters set up large protest encampments in Cairo.

Security forces violently ended the sit-ins, killing hundreds. In retaliation, many police stations and churches came under attack by alleged Morsi supporters. The court convicted Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie and 13 others of orchestrating the violence.

TIME Crime

The Strange Story of the Man Who Chose Execution By Firing Squad

Gilmore
Keystone / Getty Images Gary Gilmore pictured in January of 1977

How Gary Gilmore's 1977 execution came to pass

Firing squads have returned to the headlines this week, as Utah took steps toward allowing that method of execution if other options become unavailable. Even though some experts say firing squads are an effective method of carrying out capital sentences, the majority of Americans are put off by the idea.

But when Utah executed a Death Row inmate by firing squad four decades ago, citizens felt very differently about it. In 1976, when Gary Mark Gilmore was sentenced to death by firing squad, TIME reported that dozens of men were calling the Utah state prison warden asking to be one of the shooters. Gilmore, then 35, was a long-time resident of criminal-justice institutions, starting with a reformatory at age 14; in 1975, he killed a gas-station attendant and a motel clerk, apparently without motive. And, when his lawyers appealed, he tried to force them not to. His execution was to be the nation’s first after the Supreme Court lifted a decade-long moratorium on the death penalty.

His argument? To be executed would be to “die with dignity,” he said. And he took advantage of Utah’s law allowing a prisoner to choose his method of execution from either hanging or firing squad to elect for the latter. In its Nov. 22 1976 issue, TIME described how it would go ahead:

If Gilmore is shot, five volunteer marksmen will do the job. They will probably be law-enforcement officials, though none will be from the staff of the prison 20 miles from Salt Lake City where the death sentence will be carried out. Gilmore, hooded and strapped by the neck, arms and legs to a wooden chair, will have a circular piece of black cloth pinned over his heart. Resting high-powered .30-cal. Winchester hunting rifles on a two-by-four railing, the squad will simultaneously fire one round from 20 ft. away. There is no provision for a second volley or a coup de grace, and one rifle will be loaded with a blank so that no one will know for sure that he was responsible for the condemned man’s death.

On the other hand, according to the new lawyer he chose, Gilmore believed that life in prison was cruel and unusual. So much so, that when his execution was stayed, his girlfriend smuggled Seconal sleeping pills to him during a visit, and they both took overdoses. He was rushed to a hospital and ended up back in prison, and progress on his case was delayed while he recovered. She fell into a coma.

In December, following a hunger strike by Gilmore, a hearing board decided that his wish to die by firing squad could move forward. Asked by a judge whether he had anything to say, his only request was not to be hooded during the execution.

Still, even though the date was set, the execution did not happen as planned, as TIME reported on Dec. 13 the same year:

Though Gilmore has persistently disavowed all lawyers who tried to win him a reprieve, the decisive intervention came when Stanford Law Professor Anthony G. Amsterdam moved in the following day, on behalf of Gilmore’s mother. Amsterdam, a leader in the fight against capital punishment for a decade, filed a petition with Supreme Court Justice Byron White, who is responsible for emergency appeals in the Utah area. “The need for a stay of execution is obvious,” said Amsterdam. “Such stays are commonly granted in death cases. Indeed, the only factor that makes this application unusual is [Gilmore’s] assertion that he wished to be executed.”

Among Amsterdam’s reasons for appealing: that there may have been judicial errors in the original trial, that Gilmore may have waived his constitutional rights without fully understanding them, that his defense lawyers were inadequate, and that Utah’s capital punishment law may be unconstitutional. Justice White duly turned the petition over to the full court. The next day the court voted 6 to 3 to stay the execution for one day so that Utah state authorities can provide more information. That demand is very likely to require several further delays.

Meanwhile, Gilmore and his family again got rid of his lawyer, and sold the rights to his story in a deal that resulted in a 1982 movie, The Executioner’s Song, in which Tommy Lee Jones played Gilmore. The entrepreneur who bought the rights was invited to witness Gilmore’s execution.

That event finally took place in January of 1977. “It was an old mahogany office chair with a black vinyl seat and back,” TIME reported on Jan. 31. “There, in an old tannery known as the Slaughterhouse in the southwest corner of the Utah State Prison, sat Gary Mark Gilmore, 36, freshly shaven and wearing a black T shirt, crumpled white trousers and red, white and blue sneakers. His neck, waist, wrists and feet were loosely bound to the chair. Twenty-six feet away hung a sailcloth partition with five slits. Hidden behind the curtain stood five riflemen armed with .30-.30 deer rifles, four loaded with steel-jacketed shells, the fifth with a blank.”

Gilmore was administered his last rites. A target was pinned over his heart; he was hooded, despite his earlier request. All four of the loaded bullets hit their target. Gary Gilmore became the first prisoner to be executed in the U.S. in a decade.

Gilmore’s desire to die, as well as the timing of his execution, made his story irresistible to many Americans, especially at a time where public approval of capital punishment ran high. But those factors that made his case intriguing were the same ones that still limit what can be learned from his case. After all, a precedent that relies on an inmate who advocated for his own execution is one with few applications. “Gilmore would not allow the legal points to be made,” law professor Charles L. Black Jr. explained at the time. “Gilmore cannot give away other people’s rights.”

Read more about Gary Gilmore, here in the TIME Vault: After Gilmore, Who’s Next to Die?

TIME Crime

The Harsh Reality of Execution by Firing Squad

The firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah in 2010.
Trent Nelson—AP The firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah in 2010.

It's undeniably brutal — but experts say it may be the most effective way to carry out the death penalty

The Utah State Senate voted Tuesday to bring back firing squads if lethal injection drugs become unavailable, which would make it the only state in the union to allow the method.

Only three death row inmates have been executed by firing squad since 1976, all in Utah, with the last being Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010. The method is considered cruel by many Americans; only 12% said they would be open to it in a 2014 NBC News poll. But experts say it may actually be the most effective way for states to execute inmates.

“Firing squad is the only execution method for which people are trained,” says Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, who studies lethal injection and other execution methods. “It’s the most certain, the most expert way of executing and from all we know it would be the quickest.”

In previous executions, Utah has used five gunmen who each aim at the inmate’s heart. One of the executioners fires a blank, so it remains uncertain as to who fired the fatal shots. Any trained marksman willing to participate could theoretically be an executioner, whereas with lethal injections, prison officials or others with no certified medical training must hook up death row inmates to IVs.

There are few, if any, ways to determine how painful an execution by firing squad would be. But it does appear to bring about death more quickly than lethal injection. In 1977, when Gary Gilmore was the first person executed by firing squad in Utah following the moratorium on capital punishment in the U.S., a doctor pronounced Gilmore dead within two minutes.

MORE: Execution Problems Revive Talk of Using Firing Squads and the Electric Chair

There have been at least two firing squad executions that could be considered botched. One occurred in 1879, when Wallace Wilkerson moved just enough for the executioners to miss his heart. Another came in 1951 when gunmen misfired and hit inmate Eliseo Mares in the stomach and hip. But firing squads appear to have a much better track record than lethal injection. Last year, three lethal injection executions were considered botched.

“The death probably happens within seconds,” says Dr. Jonathan Groner, a pediatric surgeon at The Ohio State University who studies executions. “There is no way to measure the pain, but there’s anecdotal evidence that it’s less painful.”

Groner cites several lethal injections in the last year, including the executions of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Dennis McGuire in Ohio, which resulted in prolonged deaths in which witnesses described the inmates groaning and writhing on the gurney.

But patients who die from heart complications can lose consciousness within seconds, he says. There is also a bizarre experiment from 1938 in which doctors monitored the electrical activity of the heart of a Utah man who was being executed, which showed that his heart essentially became inactive within about 20 seconds of the shots being fired.

But over the years, the public has largely decided that firing squad is cruel in a modern society that has the tools to put inmates to sleep, which often appears painless. Even Gardner’s brother, Randy, came out this week describing the brutality of Ronnie’s execution in 2010. Death by firing squad seems like an antiquated and crude practice, whereas death by lethal injection can appear comparatively humane—even though it’s unclear what sort of pain inmates are in. A number of legal challenges claim it fails the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Is the firing squad needlessly cruel punishment? The executed cannot say,” says Joel Zivot, an Emory Healthcare anesthesiologist who studies executions and lethal injection. “These days, debates about methods of execution seem to be setting aside questions of cruelty evaluation and are more about having any method on hand.”

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Reinstates the Death Penalty After Seven-Year Moratorium

Pakistani NGO activists protest the death penalty in Islamabad on October 10, 2014
Aamir Qureshi—AFP/Getty Images Pakistani NGO activists protest the death penalty in Islamabad on Oct. 10, 2014

More than 8,000 people sit on death row in the South Asian nation

After a seven-year moratorium, Pakistan has reinstated the death penalty for nonterrorism cases eligible for capital punishment, and will begin executions in cases where appeals and clemency pleas are no longer an option.

Islamabad reintroduced the death penalty on terrorism-related cases last December, following the 2014 Peshawar school attacks that killed over 150 people. Pakistan has executed 24 people since December, already including three whose convictions were unrelated to terrorism, according to Amnesty International.

“This shameful retreat to the gallows is no way to resolve Pakistan’s pressing security and law-and-order problems,” said Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director Rupert Abbott.

More than 8,000 citizens languish on Pakistan’s death row, including women like Aasia Bibi, a Christian convicted under the nation’s blasphemy laws. Last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Pakistan to restore its moratorium on the death penalty, which also applies to crimes such as adultery, apostasy and blasphemy.

Rights groups contend that Pakistan’s justice system is marred by unfair trials, poor counsel and police torture.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry, however, released a letter clarifying that the death penalty applies “strictly as per law and only where all legal options and avenues have been exhausted and mercy petitions … have been rejected by the President.”

TIME Crime

Nebraska Considers Eliminating the Death Penalty

Miriam Thimm Kelle, left, whose brother James Thimm was tortured and killed on a southeast Nebraska farm in 1985, is hugged by Byron Peterson of Scottsbluff, after she testified in favor of a law proposal to change the death penalty to life imprisonment without parole, during a hearing before the Judiciary Committee in Lincoln, Neb., March 4, 2015.
Nati Harnik—AP Miriam Thimm Kelle, left, whose brother James Thimm was tortured and killed on a southeast Nebraska farm in 1985, is hugged by Byron Peterson of Scottsbluff, after she testified in favor of a law proposal to change the death penalty to life imprisonment without parole, during a hearing before the Judiciary Committee in Lincoln, Neb., March 4, 2015.

With support from Republican lawmakers

Nebraska legislators are considering a bill that would eliminate the state’s death penalty, receiving significant support from Republican lawmakers and family members of murder victims.

MORE: Georgia Postpones 2 Executions Over ‘Cloudy’ Drugs

Dozens of people rallied at the Capitol in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday night in support of a bill that would do away with death sentences,the Associated Press reports, and replace them with life without the possibility of parole.

More than two dozen relatives of murder victims signed a letter supporting the bill, saying that the time between a conviction and an actual execution can be painful for families who see their loved one’s name appear in the news during appeals and often decades-long delays.

MORE: Ohio Looks to Shield Lethal Injection Drugmakers

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, an Independent, has worked to eliminate the state’s death penalty for years but appears to have more support this time around, especially from Republicans who make up the majority of the state’s nonpartisan legislature. The Journal Star reports that seven GOP senators have signed onto the bill.

While the legislation will likely make it out of committee, the bill may still face a veto if passed from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has supported the death penalty in the past.

Since 2007, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland have eliminated the death penalty, and currently 32 states still enforce capital punishment. Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf put an effective moratorium on executions in the state in part over fears of putting innocent people to death.

Nebraska currently has 11 people on death row.

[AP]

TIME Crime

Georgia Postpones 2 Executions Over ‘Cloudy’ Drugs

TIME.com stock photos Health Syringe Needle
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Georgia's supply of lethal injection drug pentobarbital may have gone bad

Georgia indefinitely postponed two executions Tuesday to allow officials to analyze its current batch of lethal injection drugs, which “appeared cloudy” prior to an execution that had been scheduled Monday night.

The execution of Kelly Gissendaner, who would’ve been the first woman put to death in the state in 70 years, was called off by the Georgia Department of Corrections Monday night after the state discovered its supply of pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, looked murky.

Georgia officials made the decision after consulting with a pharmacist, according to The New York Times, even though state officials said that its pentobarbital supply had been tested and was cleared for use.

MORE: Georgia Convict First to Be Executed After Botched Oklahoma Lethal Injection

The state then announced Tuesday that the executions of both Gissendaner and Brian Keith Terrell, who was set to die by lethal injection on March 10 for the 1992 murder of John Henry Watson, were indefinitely postponed. Gissendaner was convicted of arranging the 1997 murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner.

A number of states have had trouble carrying out executions due to problems obtaining drugs. A series of lawsuits from death row inmates who are challenging the constitutionality of states’ lethal injection protocols have also led to stays of execution nationwide.

MORE: Ohio Looks to Shield Lethal Injection Drugmakers

Like many states, Georgia has turned to compounding pharmacies, which are not under federal oversight, for their drug supplies while also passing a secrecy law that keeps participating pharmacies anonymous. Georgia has not released the name of its drug supplier, and it’s unclear when its current batch of pentobarbital was due to expire.

TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: Why America Could Change How It Puts People to Death

3 Inmates in Oklahoma are challenging the use of certain drugs in executions

A new Supreme Court case could mean a change in the chemicals that prisons use for lethal injections. Watch #TheBrief to find out more.

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Delays Executions for 3 Oklahoma Inmates

The Supreme Court
James P. Blair—Getty Images

State is temporarily barred from using controversial sedative

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday delayed the execution of three Oklahoma death row inmates who are part of a case that could decide the future of lethal injections nationwide.

The court’s order prevents Oklahoma from using the sedative midazolam to execute Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, who are challenging the state’s current lethal injection protocol. The trio claims that the use of midazolam, which has been criticized by some anesthesiologists as not properly inducing unconsciousness, violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Glossip, who was convicted of having his boss murdered, was set to be executed Thursday. Grant, who was convicted of stabbing a co-worker to death, was scheduled to be executed in February. And Cole, handed a death sentence for killing his 9-month-old daughter, was initially set to be executed in March.

MORE: Justices Will Review Use of Midazolam as Execution Drug

Because the Supreme Court’s order specifically prevents Oklahoma from executing the men with midazolam, it’s possible but unlikely that the state will try to use a different drug to carry out their death sentence before the court rules in their case.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last week, making it the first time the court will consider whether a specific method of capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment since Baze v. Rees in 2008. That decision upheld Kentucky’s three-drug lethal injection protocol. Since then, drug shortages have forced states to use different drugs, including midazolam.

All eyes have been on Oklahoma’s execution protocol since last April, when the lethal injection of a convicted killer went awry. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by the end of June.

Read more: Ohio Abandons Controversial Drug Execution Cocktail

TIME Crime

Oklahoma Executes First Inmate Since Botched Lethal Injection in April

Oklahoma Execution
Sue Ogrocki—AP The gurney in the the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary is pictured in McAlester, Okla., Oct. 9, 2014.

Thursday's execution came shortly after the Supreme Court rejected his legal team's appeal

Charles Warner was executed on Thursday night after the Supreme Court declined in a 5-4 ruling to intervene, making him the first death-row inmate to be put to death there since a botched lethal injection in April forced the state to reform its execution standards.

The execution of Warner, who was convicted for the 1997 sexual assault and murder of an 11-month-old, had been set for 6 p.m. CST, but was delayed while officials could learn the court’s ruling. After that came in, the Associated Press reports, prison officials said he was declared dead at 7:28 p.m., local time.

Warner’s execution had originally been scheduled after that of Clayton Lockett, who was convicted of kidnapping and burying alive Stephanie Neiman in 1999. But officials scrapped it after Lockett’s lethal injection went awry.

Executioners took 51 minutes to locate one of Lockett’s veins and then failed to insert the IVs properly, allowing drugs to leak into the inmate’s surrounding tissues. According to witness accounts, Lockett writhed on the gurney for roughly 45 minutes. An autopsy showed he died of a heart attack.

MORE: Oklahoma Inmate Felt ‘Liquid Fire’ During Execution, Doctor Says

Lockett’s execution triggered a moratorium on lethal injections in Oklahoma. The state instituted changes to its drug protocol, increased training for executioners and remodeled its execution chamber.

For Warner’s lethal injection, state executioners will be using new equipment that will help prevent improper IV placement. Prison officials are also allowed to postpone an execution if there are problems in the first hour. And the dosage of midazolam, one of the drugs used that has been routinely criticized as not strong enough to adequately put an inmate to sleep, has been increased.

Warner’s legal team went to the high court for a last-minute stay after a federal court in Oklahoma City rejected the appeal, and then a federal appeals court in Denver did the same. An execution in Florida that used the same method occurred just before Warner’s following a temporary hold due to a similar case mulled by the justices.

Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented in Thursday’s ruling, with the latter writing:

I am deeply troubled by this evidence suggesting that midazolam cannot constitutionally be used as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection protocol. It is true that we give deference to the district courts. But at some point we must question their findings of fact, unless we are to abdicate our role of ensuring that no clear error has been committed. We should review such findings with added care when what is at issue is the risk of the need- less infliction of severe pain. Here, given the evidence before the District Court, I struggle to see how its decision to credit the testimony of a single purported expert can be supported given the substantial body of conflicting empirical and anecdotal evidence.

I believe that we should have granted petitioners’ application for stay. The questions before us are especially important now, given States’ increasing reliance on new and scientifically untested methods of execution. Petitioners have committed horrific crimes, and should be punished. But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death. I hope that our failure to act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider these questions.

Read next: 25 Secret Minutes Inside Oklahoma’s Execution Chamber

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