TIME Courts

Lethal Injection Ruled Constitutional in Tennessee

After you: Good manners may prevail even in the death chamber
Edward McCain; Getty Images

Tennessee has not executed any death row inmates for five years as court battles have continued

A judge in Tennessee ruled Wednesday that the state’s lethal injection protocol is constitutional, ending a battle that has halted executions for more than five years.

Judge Claudia Bonneyman of Davidson County said the 33 plaintiffs—all inmates condemned to death—and their attorneys could not prove that the one-drug method of lethal injection Tennessee uses carries a risk of cruel and unusual punishment, a civil liberty guaranteed under the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. State rules call for the use of compounded pentobarbital for its lethal injections.

In doing so, Bonneyman cited a 2008 Supreme Court case referred to as Baze, which upheld the constitutionality of Kentucky’s lethal injection protocols, even in the case of a random error, The Tennessean reported.

This is Bonneyman’s second ruling on Tennessee’s capital punishment laws: In 2010, she ruled that Tennessee’s previous execution protocol of using three drugs for lethal injection was unconstitutional, as it allowed “for death by suffocation while conscious.”

Critics have argued that drugs used to induce lethal injection may cause extreme pain, and, in some cases, might prolong death or not kill at all.

Bonneyman’s ruling does not mean Tennessee will immediately reinstate executions, as appeals are almost certainly going to be filed. There are currently 67 inmates on death row in the state.

TIME Connecticut

Connecticut’s Highest Court Overturns Death Penalty

11 men on the state's death row would no longer be subject to execution orders

(HARTFORD, Conn.) — Connecticut’s highest court has overturned the death penalty in the state, saying it’s unconstitutional.

Thursday’s ruling could mean that the 11 men on the state’s death row would no longer be subject to execution orders. Those inmates include Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who were sentenced to die for killing a mother and her two daughters in a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire.

The state had passed a law in 2012 to repeal the death penalty only for future crimes.

The ruling comes in an appeal from Eduardo Santiago, whose attorneys had argued that any execution carried out after repeal would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Santiago faced the possibility of lethal injection for a 2000 murder-for-hire killing in West Hartford.

TIME Crime

Colorado Theater Shooting Jury Keeps Death Penalty as Option

James Holmes, trail
AP In this file image, made from Colorado Judicial Department video, defense attorney Tamara Brady, left, questions Robert Holmes, top right, the father of James Holmes, background left, during the sentencing phase of the Colorado theater shooting trial in Centennial, Colo, July 28, 2015

The same jury last month convicted Holmes of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 2012 attack

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Jurors in the Colorado theater shooting trial declined to rule out the death penalty Monday as they move toward sentencing James Holmes, finding his defense failed to persuade them to show him mercy.

The decision clears the way for a last plea from both sides, including what is expected to be gripping and emotional testimony from victims about the harm and suffering Holmes caused with his slaughter.

After those arguments, the jury will make its final decision on whether the 27-year-old should die by lethal injection or spend the rest of his life in prison.

The same jury last month convicted Holmes of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 2012 attack at a suburban Denver movie theater. Jurors rejected the defense claim that mental illness had so warped his mind that he could not tell right from wrong.

In the first step of Colorado’s complicated death sentencing process, prosecutors argued Holmes sprang a terrifying and cruel ambush on hundreds of unsuspecting victims. Jurors agreed and said the crime was so heinous that the death penalty could be appropriate.

In the second step, defense lawyers pleaded with jurors to show mercy, saying it was mental illness and not free will that drove Holmes to murder. They called dozens of former teachers, family friends, and Holmes’ parents and his sister, who told jurors Holmes had been a happy, friendly child known as “Jimmy” but kept to himself in his later years.

Holmes’ parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, testified that they never suspected their son was mentally ill. But Robert Holmes acknowledged they rarely communicated with Holmes in the months before the shooting and, in his family, emotions just weren’t talked about.

A forensic psychiatrist testified that the younger Holmes was “genetically loaded” for mental illness, as Robert Holmes’ father and twin sister had been hospitalized with mental illness.

“He was not a violent person. At least not until the event,” Robert Holmes said, referring to the theater attack.

Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before reaching their latest decision. They found the appealing portrait of a younger, kinder Holmes didn’t outweigh the heinous nature of his methodical and calculated attack on defenseless moviegoers.

Now both sides can call witnesses and present evidence before the jury deliberates one last time to decide whether Holmes lives or dies.

Holmes was a promising student in a demanding neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado when his life went awry. He broke up with his first and only girlfriend and dropped out of school, abandoning his longtime goal of becoming a scientist.

In an eerie notebook introduced as evidence in his trial, Holmes laid out his plans of attack, diagnosed himself with a litany of mental problems and wrote that he hid the depths of his problems — and his homicidal plans — from everyone.

Shortly after midnight on July 20, 2012, he slipped into the suburban Aurora theater and opened fire with a shotgun, assault rifle and semi-automatic pistol before surrendering meekly to police outside.

TIME India

Most of India’s Execution Records Have Been ‘Lost or Destroyed by Termites’

Indian policemen stand guard near the residence of Memon in Mumbai
Shailesh Andrade—Reuters Indian policemen stand guard near the residence of Yakub Memon, in Mumbai, India, July 30, 2015. India hanged Yakub Memon on Thursday for his role in the country's deadliest bombings, which killed 257 people in Mumbai in 1993.

The absence of information shows the "callousness" of the record-keeping system, according to researchers

There is a significant dearth of official information concerning Indian death penalty cases, according to a New Delhi university legal researcher who is now struggling to complete the first comprehensive study on capital punishment in the country.

Anup Surendranath, the professor at the Indian capital’s National Law University spearheading the research project, said that prisons across India responded to record requests by claiming many documents had been “lost or destroyed by termites.” Among the missing files are the 2001 mercy pleas of four men convicted in the 1992 Bara Massacre, a mass murder carried out by Maoist insurgents in the Eastern Indian state of Bihar.

Though records confirm that capital punishment has a prominent position in India’s judiciary history — at least 1,400 executions occurred between 1953 and 1963 alone — the country’s prisons could only provide data on 765 cases between Indian independence in 1947 and the present day.

“There’s a complete lack of information — they don’t even have the names of the prisoners, let alone the official files,” Surendranath told TIME. “It just shows the callousness of the record-keeping system in the jails.”

The task of documenting the activity of the country’s gallows is left to the individual prisons, he said, with “no central authority correlating this [information].”

The absence of relevant data has limited the National Law University’s study to ongoing capital cases — those where the prisoner continues to wait on death row. Execution is an increasingly rare sentence in contemporary India, with only four prisoners hanged in the country since 2000. One of which came just last week, when the country’s Supreme Court finally moved to hang Yakub Memon, the “driving spirit” behind the 1993 terrorist bombings in Mumbai, the deadliest in the country’s history. The execution, carried out on Memon’s 53rd birthday, followed a drawn-out legal debate.

Surendranath, who resigned on Friday from his position as the Supreme Court’s Deputy Registrar of Research, has been an outspoken critic of the death penalty in India, actively speaking out against Memon’s planned execution. Though he declined to comment to TIME on his resignation, he posted on Facebook that he stepped down to “focus on death penalty work at the University.”

“It is in many ways liberating to to regain the freedom to write whatever I want and I hope to make full use of that in the next few days to discuss the events that transpired at the Supreme Court this week,” he wrote. The post came a day after one that declared the rulings to execute Memon as “instances of judicial abdication that must count amongst the darkest hours for the Supreme Court of India.”

He told TIME that his research team would release its official report on Indian capital punishment later this month.

TIME India

India Moves to Hang Terrorist Yakub Memon Amid Growing Calls to Abolish Death Penalty

File Photo Of 1993 Mumbai Serial Bomb Blasts Case
Hindustan Times/Getty Images Mumbai bomb-blast accused Yakub Memon entering the TADA court in Mumbai on Oct. 25, 2007

The country remains divided on whether to retain capital punishment

Terrorist convict Yakub Memon, sentenced to death eight years ago for his role orchestrating the 1993 Mumbai bombings, will be hanged at the end of the month provided India’s Supreme Court rejects his final curative petition for mercy next week.

Memon, found guilty of being the “driving spirit” behind the 13 blasts that claimed more than 250 lives, is tentatively scheduled for execution on July 30, sources from India’s Home Ministry confirmed to the Indian Express newspaper.

While the death sentences of 10 others convicted of the attacks were commuted to life imprisonment, Memon’s earlier mercy plea to the country’s President Pranab Mukherjee was declined in April, and his new attempt is similarly expected to be rejected.

Memon’s hanging, if it takes place, will be the third high-profile terrorist execution in India within the past three years — Ajmal Kasab, one of the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, was hanged in November 2012 and Afzal Guru, convicted of planning an attack on India’s parliament in 2001, met a similar fate a few months later.

The final decision on Memon’s fate, due to be handed down on July 21, comes as India wrestles with abolishing the death penalty altogether. The South Asian nation’s law commission is preparing a report to be submitted to the Supreme Court on ending capital punishment, with a discussion on its consultation paper regarding the subject resulting in a polarization of opinion.

Former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was among the notable voices in favor of scrapping the death penalty, saying that most cases involving a death sentence have a “social and economic bias,” the Times of India reported. Several participants in the consultation, however, said the death penalty can be justified in the “rarest of the rare” cases.

A report by Amnesty International places India in the top 10 countries sentencing people to death; more than 60 death sentences were handed down in 2014.

TIME indonesia

Boxing Icon Manny Pacquiao Visits Filipina Death-Row Convict Mary Jane Veloso

Ulet Ifansasti—Getty Images Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, center, and his wife Jinkee meet convicted drug trafficker Mary Jane Veloso of the Philippines during a visit at Wirogunan prison on July 10, 2015, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

The boxing legend has lobbied for his compatriot to be set free

Philippine boxer Manny Pacquiao visited Wirogunan prison in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Friday morning to show his support for Filipina death-row inmate Mary Jane Veloso.

Pacquiao posted a photo on Instagram of him and his wife Jinkee holding hands and praying with Veloso. “Praying with Mary Jane Veloso. Please keep her in your prayers,” he wrote.

Veloso, who won a last-minute temporary reprieve from execution April 29, following a social-media campaign and a personal plea from Pacquiao, was reportedly in tears during the visit.

Praying with Mary Jane Veloso. Please keep her in your prayers.

A photo posted by Manny Pacquiao (@mannypacquiao) on

Veloso was sentenced to death for drug smugging in October 2010, but her family and supporters say the single mother of two was an unwitting victim of human traffickers. Amid a massive social-media campaign launched by migrant-workers’-rights and women’s-rights activists in both countries, Pacquiao made a televised appeal to Indonesian President Joko Widodo to spare the life of Veloso on April 27, two days before the scheduled execution.

Hours after Veloso’s temporary reprieve, the boxing icon promised he would visit her after his “fight of century” against Floyd Mayweather on May 2 in Las Vegas — a promise he has now fulfilled.

Pacquiao and his wife flew to Indonesia on Tuesday to shoot a commercial for a local herbal-medicine company. He and his entourage stayed at Wirogunan prison for about 30 to 60 minutes. Indonesian migrant activists gave him and his wife a handmade batik gift to express their gratitude. “This visit is very important and can give moral support to MJ [Mary Jane],” said the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Network in a statement.

TIME Crime

The Enduring Enigma of the First Woman Executed by the U.S. Federal Government

Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt (1820 or May 1823 – July 7, 1865) Dated 1865
Universal History Archive / Getty Images Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt (1820 or May 1823 ¬ July 7, 1865)

The first woman executed by the United States received her sentence on June 30, 1865

It’s been 150 years since the first conspirators who killed Abraham Lincoln were executed. Among them was Mary Surratt, who was the first woman to be executed by the federal government—but whose story remains a mystery to this day.

Surratt stands at the border of Civil War conflict. After all, she was from Maryland, a state that straddled North-South loyalties. As a child on a tobacco farm and, later, a farmer’s wife, Surratt’s loyalties skewed Southern and pro-slave: her family owned seven slaves. In 1851, her family farm burned to the ground, allegedly set ablaze by an escaped slave. By the time her openly secessionist husband died in 1862, her home was being used as a safe house for Confederate spies. The death of her husband, who was heavily in debt, led to a series of financial catastrophes for Surratt, which eventually prompted her to move to Washington, D.C. and open a boardinghouse in 1864. (The house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now a sushi restaurant and karaoke spot).

It’s unclear how much Surratt knew about the use of her boardinghouse—or the tavern she owned nearby—as a place of Confederate conspiracy. Her own son, John Surratt, Jr., was a member of the Confederate Secret Service, and by late 1864 her house had a frequent visitor, an actor named John Wilkes Booth.

On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse was visited by members of another police force: The District of Columbia was seeking not only Booth, but also Surratt’s son, who was suspected of helping attack U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, who was shot by one of Booth’s accomplices, Lewis Powell, as Lincoln was being attacked across town. One historian calls Mary Surratt’s testimony under police questioning “confident and arrogant.”

She claimed ignorance of any plot to kill the President, despite testimony from her tavern keeper that she had told him to keep guns at the ready on the day of the assassination—guns that were later used to kill Lincoln. This testimony linked her to Booth and other conspirators, including her son. The tavern keeper, John Lloyd, reportedly cried out “Mrs. Surratt, that vile woman, she has ruined me!” when he heard of Lincoln’s murder.

Surratt was imprisoned in the Old Capital Prison along with the owner of Ford’s Theatre, Booth’s brother, Dr. Samuel Mudd and many other suspected co-conspirators. She was tried by a military tribunal instead of a civil court, a move that seems to have been motivated by lingering distrust between North and South, bitterness over the assassination and a desire to get to the bottom of the conspiracy.

At her trial, Surratt was defended by several priests and friends the New York Times called “constant and faithful.” But their testimony and her own protestations of innocence were not enough. Not only was she convicted, she was sentenced to death, along with the other alleged co-conspirators, on June 30, 1865. It was a move that shocked the country.

Despite last-minute attempts to gain clemency and commute her sentence to life in prison, Mary Surratt was executed by hanging on July 7 of that year. Dressed in black, she led the procession of prisoners to their death. Before she was hanged, she is reported to have asked the guard near her not to let her fall.

Surratt never stopped defending her innocence—and nor did her co-conspirators. Before being executed, the co-conspirator who shot Seward claimed she was innocent (a debate that still continues to this day). But what of her suspected conspirator son? Just call him the one who got away: though he was tried in civil court in 1867, the government dropped all charges against him—despite his admission that he had been part of a conspiracy to kidnap the President.

TIME Crime

Which State Will Be Next to Abolish the Death Penalty?

Death Penalty Nebraska
Nate Jenkins—AP Nebraska's lethal injection chamber at the State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Neb. On May 27, Nebraska became the 19th state to repeal the death penalty.

Several more are primed to repeal capital punishment

Nebraska became the first Republican-leaning state in four decades to abolish the death penalty on Wednesday, the latest signal that momentum is on the side of those who oppose capital punishment. And in the next few years, it’s likely that several more states will outlaw the practice.

Delaware may be the next in line. Governor Jack Markell, a Democrat, has pledged to sign a death penalty repeal bill that has already passed the Senate and is currently in the majority Democratic House Judiciary Committee. That’s only if Montana or New Hampshire don’t get there first; state lawmakers in Montana fell one vote short of passing a bill to abolish the death penalty in February, reaching a 50-50 split on the bill after the Senate passed its own version. Similarly, the New Hampshire Senate also reached a deadlocked repeal vote in April 2014.

But there’s a whole list of states that might yet follow in Nebraska’s footsteps. The seven states that have now done away with capital punishment since 2007 all had one thing in common: they essentially had stopped using their execution chambers altogether. And six states with death penalty laws still on the books — Colorado, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wyoming—haven’t executed anyone in more than a decade.

“When you look at most repeals, they were all in states in which the death penalty had fallen into disuse,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group. “Nebraska followed in the pattern of states in which the death penalty had been functionally discarded in practice.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 56% of Americans still support the death penalty, but that number is at its lowest in four decades. Opposition is coming not just from Democrats, who have historically opposed capital punishment, but increasingly from Republicans who believe the death penalty is too costly and does nothing to deter people from the most heinous of crimes.

In both Kansas and Wyoming — states which haven’t executed anyone in years — conservative lawmakers have introduced repeal legislation in both states, and in South Dakota, another red-leaning state, several conservative legislators have voiced support for doing away with capital punishment. Last year, legislators in the South Dakota House were one vote shy of getting a bill to the floor.

“The death penalty is no longer getting a pass,” says Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “People may support the idea in the abstract, but when they see how it’s done, how it’s doing nothing to enhance public safety, and when they see innocent people being released from death row, they see that they can’t square it with their other values.”

TIME justice

Why This Red State Is Poised to End the Death Penalty

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is seen through bars during a tour of the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Tecumseh, Neb., on May 19, 2015.
Nati Harnik—AP Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is seen through bars during a tour of the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Tecumseh, Neb., on May 19, 2015.

It would be the first conservative state to do so since 1973

As a college student in the mid-1990s, Colby Coash attended an execution at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. Two groups gathered to bear witness. On one side were death-penalty opponents, who prayed quietly. On the other side, the atmosphere was festive.

“It was like a tailgate party,” Coash recalls, replete with a band and barbecue, and locals banging on pots and pans. As the minutes ticked toward midnight and the condemned was strapped into the electric chair, the crowd drank beer and counted down “like it was New Year’s Eve,” says Coash, who supported the death penalty at the time. “Later, it didn’t feel right. I didn’t like how it felt to be a part of the celebration of somebody’s death.”

Coash now serves in Lincoln as a state senator, and on Wednesday he was among a cadre of conservatives who voted to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska. If the measure becomes law, Nebraska would become the first red state to ban capital punishment since North Dakota in 1973.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who supports the death penalty, has threatened to veto the bill. But Wednesday’s 32-15 margin in the Nebraska legislature indicates supporters have the votes to override such a move. Ricketts has five days to sign or veto the measure before it automatically becomes law.

The landmark vote was a reflection of the shifting politics of criminal justice. For decades, law-and-order conservatives have been staunch proponents of capital punishment. But in recent years, a growing number of Republicans have begun to oppose the death penalty, arguing it violates the central tenets of conservatism.

“It does things that are cardinal sins for conservatives,” says Marc Hyden, a former NRA staffer from Georgia who serves as coordinator of a national group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. “It risks innocent life. It wastes taxpayer money when there’s cheaper alternatives, and fails to be representative of a limited government—while it meanwhile fails to deter crime.”

Overall, Americans’ support for the death penalty is relatively stable, according to a 2015 Gallup poll that found 63% of respondents favored capital punishment for convicted murderers. But among conservatives, support for the practice appears to be dropping, though it remains high. In 2014, Gallup found that 76% of Republicans supported the death penalty, down from 81% the year before. Says Hyden: “It’s just a broken government program that conservatives are speaking out against in greater numbers nationally.”

Eighteen states have banned the death penalty, mostly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Nebraska might seem an unlikely candidate to join them. The state is a conservative stronghold, and while its unicameral legislature is officially nonpartisan, 36 of its 49 seats are held by Republicans.

But the Cornhusker State has been down this road before. In 1979, a bill banning capital punishment passed the legislature before it was vetoed by the governor. Though Nebraska has 11 inmates on death row, no one has been executed in the state since 1997. In 2013 some observers believed there were enough votes to pass such a measure, though not enough to override a veto. The current legislature had voted twice already to abolish the death penalty.

In preparation for the push, opponents of the death penalty lobbied lawmakers extensively, circulating studies that show the practice is ineffective as a deterrent to crime and enlisting the family members of murder victims to testify about how the endless appeals process compounded their grief.

Stacy Anderson, a conservative Christian and former Republican operative who directs a group called Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the unique nature of the state legislature—the only nonpartisan, unicameral legislature in the U.S.—helped break down traditional partisan lines. “It’s a very cordial, small body,” Anderson says. “They engage the issues far beyond the regular political rhetoric.”

Some conservatives originally ducked meetings on the topic, Anderson added. Over time, a number came to change their minds. “They learned how much it cost, the risk of executing innocents, how it didn’t align with pro-life values,” she says.

Death penalty opponents hope Nebraska’s vote will be the beginning of a trend. A push to abolish capital punishment in conservative Montana fell one vote short earlier this year. Anti-death penalty legislation has also been introduced in Kansas.

Before the vote Wednesday, Ricketts released a statement urging lawmakers to listen to their constituents. “No one has traveled the state more than I have in the past 18 months, and everywhere I go there is overwhelming support for keeping the death penalty in Nebraska,” he said, calling a vote to abolish the death penalty a vote to “give our state’s most heinous criminals more lenient sentences. This isn’t rhetoric. This is reality.”

For Coash, that’s precisely the point. “People sent me here to Lincoln to find and root out government waste,” he says. In addition to the expense, he came to believe that the protracted appeals process prevented the families of victims from achieving closure. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” he says. And “I’m a pro-life guy. I couldn’t reconcile my pro-life beliefs regarding the unborn with doing something different with the condemned.”

TIME Crime

A Gruesome Historical Argument Against the Death Penalty

Prison
Frank van den Bergh—Getty Images

May 4, 1990: A death-row inmate in Florida dies in a botched execution by electric chair

It’s not easy being an executioner. Doing the job well earns no one’s praise; doing it badly leads to accusations of cruel and unusual punishment. Such was the charge on this day, May 4, in 1990, when a Florida inmate’s death by electric chair ended in torture for the inmate and trauma for horrified observers.

Jesse Tafero was convicted of fatally shooting two police officers during a 1976 traffic stop. By the time of his death, the electric chair was Florida’s standard method of execution. But because of what critics have described as poor training for executioners and limited oversight for executions themselves, the process did not go smoothly.

The trouble began when a sponge used in the chair’s headpiece wore out and had to be replaced. “There’s no factory or parts catalog for execution devices, so the prison sent a guy to pick up a sponge at the store,” TIME later reported. “Problem was, he bought a synthetic sponge instead of a genuine sea sponge”; the latter type was required to handle the electric current without catching fire.

Catch fire it did. Flames on Tafero’s head were nearly a foot high, according to one witness, but initially failed to kill him. The current was reapplied three times, since he was still breathing after the first two times.

“It takes seven minutes before the prison doctor pronounces him dead, seven minutes of heaving, nodding, flame, and smoke,” the witness, Ellen McGarrahan, wrote for Slate.

Tafero’s death breathed new life into the national debate over the death penalty — particularly regarding the humaneness of execution methods and whether they are sufficiently regulated. Tafero’s wasn’t the first or the last to end in torture, after all: The 2014 book Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty concludes that at least three percent of all American executions from 1890 to 2010 were botched, and lists 276 that are known to have gone wrong out of the roughly 9,000 over that time span.

The manner of Tafero’s death didn’t stop Florida lawmakers from continuing to embrace the electric chair. But a nearly identical malfunction occurred in 1997, during the execution of convicted murderer Pedro Medina, leaving one witness to remark, per Gruesome Spectacles, “[A] solid flame covered his whole head, from one side to the other. I had the impression of somebody being burned alive.” The state finally switched to death by lethal injection in 2000.

And while lethal injection is now the primary execution method in all states that enforce the death penalty, it is not without its own detractors. In 2008, arguments against the three-drug cocktail used by Kentucky (and other states) reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the method did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The court is now hearing a similar case, this time brought by death-row inmates in Oklahoma, over whether a sedative used in lethal injections is strong enough to prevent undue suffering. If the court rules against this method, according to the New York Times, some states will consider resurrecting the electric chair.

But Tafero’s execution also became a talking point in another argument against the death penalty: the possibility of killing the wrong person. After Tafero’s harrowing death, the key witness against him admitted that he himself had pulled the trigger in the traffic-stop gunfight. Although prosecutors continued to insist that they’d gotten the right man, many concluded that Tafero was, in fact, innocent.

Read more about the Supreme Court and the death penalty, here in the TIME archives: Death Penalty Walking

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