You have no Plan B.
That's a paraphrase of something our expert said from the witness stand in a lethal injection case I was trying. It was a few years ago, and at the time, Ohio's system worked like this (I'm omitting lots of detail):
- Put shunts in guy's arms.
- Pump thiopental.
- Pump pancuronium bromide.
- Pump potassium chloride.
- Have body carted away.
What Ohio didn't have was a fallback position, a backup, a Plan B. What if they couldn't get the shunts in? What if it was clear that the drugs wouldn't pump? What if?
All you'd find in the protocol in those days was amounted to,
We'll try to figure something out.
Which isn't really much of a plan.
Since that time, Ohio has
- Been unable to get the shunts in Rommell Broom's arms (or legs or feet or . . . ) and called a halt to his murder.
- Come up with a new protocol that included a Plan B using a never-before-tried murder system involving intra-muscular injection of a couple of drugs.
- Switched from the three-drug sequence to a single dose of thiopental.
- Announced that beginning with the second murder of this year it will switch from a single dose of thiopental to a single dose of pentobarbital.
We here in the Buckeye State change execution protocols as frequently as some people change their sheets. The goal is killing, and we will find a way.
Other states, though, are less agile.
They have 82 people on death row in the Sagebrush State. None has an execution date, or at least not a realistic one. But the Sagebrush sages are taking no chances. They don't move as nimbly as Ohio, so they're trying to plan ahead.
See, Nevada has no thiopental. And as we've seen, it's getting harder to get hold of it. Hospira won't make more. Britain will no longer let Dream Pharma export it from the driving school.
Italy forbids export if it ends up as an execution drug. Germany forbids export for killing. Oklahoma replaced thiopental in its series of drugs with pentobarbital, but nobody really knows how that works. From Politiken.
Harvard, Berkely and Fordham experts are criticising the use of a Danish anaesthetic in executions.
American death row prisoners risk extreme pain during their executions as a result of an anaesthetic produced by the Danish company Lundbeck, according to several US experts..
“Gruesome, painful, horrible,” says Harvard Anaesthestist and Medical Professor David Waisel.
Two states – Ohio and Oklahoma – have begun using pentobarbital for executions as stocks of a previous anaesthetic have run out, and the company that previously produced the anaesthetic used has decided to stop production.
“There is no documentation that this substance can be used to anaesthetise people like this. We don’t know the correct dose. Prisoners are not treated like human beings but like animals,” Waisel says.
As I noted a week and a half ago, Lundbeck is flat-out hostile. According to it's VP for communication, Sally Benjamin Young, the company sent a protest letter to Ohio's DRC. She wouldn't release the letter itself.
"The Nevada Department of Corrections has been working with the office of the attorney general in revising the Execution Manual," Ingram said. "Due to the limited supply of the execution drug used in the past, the drug protocol is being reviewed as well.
"No final decisions have been made by the Office of the Attorney general at this time."
So Nevada wants help.
In response, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto joined 11 other attorney generals recently in asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for help in either finding new sources for sodium thiopental or making the federal government's sources available to the states.
Well sure. If we can't kill, let's blame it on the Obama administration. Or get them to fix it.
There's no reason to think the feds have a stockpile of thiopental.
The last of the thiopental from Hospira has an expiration date of March 2011. And then what happens? Does it lose potency? How fast? Will it just stop working? Will it have some other effect? Nobody seems to know.
And, of course, there's no indication that Nevada, or any of the 11 other states, really cares.
Debby Denno, law professor at Fordham and an expert on execution technology and the law says that the firing squad is the best, most humane way for the state to murder people. But nobody in this country does that any more. (Utah carved out a special exception for the killing of Ronnie Lee Gardner.) I'm not at all convinced that the cosmeticization of death, the pius, posturing faux decency of a "humane" execution makes any sense.
If the goal is retribution, then there should be some sort of equivalence. If the goal is deterrence, then there should be maximum pain. I wrote this back in 2009.