The main suspect in the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords and 18 others is expected to plead guilty in court today. Jared Loughner has been held in a Missouri prison undergoing psychological examination for over a year now and his prison psychiatrist has determined that he is fit to stand trial. On Monday an order was filed for Judge Larry Burns to consider letting Loughner change his plea from not guilty to guilty. Judge Burns will determine if Loughner is fit to stand trial based on how he conducts himself in court today. He may be asked to read through his actions on that January day to show he fully understands what he did and what is happening to him in court.
Loughner was arrested at the scene of the shooting in January of 2011 and immediately showed signs of mental difficulties. He was moved to a prison in Missouri shortly later and began undergoing psychological observation with forced medication. Recently it was determined that while Loughner suffers from schizophrenia he is capable of assisting his defense lawyers in his trial will be capable of understanding what is happening to him.
In exchange for changing his plea to guilty it is assumed that Loughner will receive life in prison rather than the death penalty. For the defense attorney Judy Clarke this is a small victory in a otherwise tragic case. While some may see little difference between spending the rest of your life in prison or being put to death it is a huge difference for the defendant and their family. It is a testament to Ms. Clarke’s skill as an attorney that she was able to get this deal and will be held as examples along with her defense of ‘Unabomber’ Ted Kaczynski and Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph.
Since Loughners main target was Congresswoman Gabriela Giffords he was charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Assassination is a form of first degree murder where the act was premeditated but since Giffords was a politician it makes the act an assassination.
Today David Michael Cantor of The Law Offices of David Michael Cantor, a Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney, talks about recent issues where drugs for execution were illegally imported into the US. Apparently two batches of the anesthetic sodium thiopental and one batch of the paralytic-drug pancuronium bromide were brought into the country from Britain last September and October but instead of being listed for execution of humans it was listed for Animal use. As it turns out the Drug Enforcement Agency was less than happy about that and has confiscated the drugs for further investigation from the Georgia Department of Corrections. At issue is whether the executions being performed are humane as witnesses of executions with British sodium thiopental state the prisoners eyes were still open. Of course we could just stop executing people all together…
What do you think?
Here are the stories from the Arizona Republic on the matter:
With two executions scheduled in Arizona within the next 16 days and two more looming in coming months, last-ditch motions for appeals and stays of execution are flying through state and federal courts, many of them centering on the importation and use of a drug used in the executions.
Sodium thiopental, a short-acting anesthetic often used during executions, has been purchased by several states from Great Britain because it is no longer available in the U.S., raising a host of questions about the quality of the foreign-made drug and how it is being obtained.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last week seized the sodium-thiopental supply of the Georgia Department of Corrections to verify whether it had been legally imported into the country.
The seizure came after a Washington, D.C., attorney asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to look into whether Georgia had the proper DEA licenses to obtain the drug.
On Wednesday, attorneys representing an Arizona death-row prisoner whose appeals have run out released a letter from British authorities claiming 12 adverse patient reactions, nearly half of them for ineffectiveness, to sodium thiopental from the same batches imported to carry out U.S. executions.
Two executions are pending in Arizona:
– Eric King, 47, is scheduled for execution March 29 for murdering a convenience-store clerk and a security guard during a robbery in Phoenix in December 1989. King’s most recent motions with the Arizona Supreme Court claim that a surveillance tape used in trial was edited and not original and that his co-defendant (for whom charges were dropped) had recanted his testimony. His petition for clemency also raises issues about the quality of the state’s sodium thiopental.
– Daniel Wayne Cook, 49, is scheduled to die a week later, on April 5, for torturing, sodomizing and killing two restaurant co-workers in Lake Havasu City in 1987. On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned down Cook’s appeal, which was based on the legality of the thiopental that will be used to execute him. The court cited an October ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop the Arizona execution of Jeffrey Landrigan. The ruling said prisoners do not have a say in the origin of the chemicals used to kill them. On Saturday, Cook’s attorneys asked the 9th Circuit to reconsider.
The Arizona Supreme Court also has been asked to set execution dates for two other inmates and will soon be approached for permission to execute a third:
– Richard Bible, 49, snatched a 9-year-old girl off a bicycle in Flagstaff in 1988 and sexually assaulted her before killing her. On Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court denied a request to have further DNA testing done in his case, ruling that it would not likely have affected the outcome of his trial.
– Donald Beaty, 56, abducted and murdered a 13-year-old newspaper-delivery girl in Tempe in 1984 while she was collecting money from clients on her delivery route. On Wednesday, Beaty’s attorneys filed a motion with the Arizona Supreme Court asking that it not set an execution date because of new evidence that the imported sodium thiopental may not be efficient.
– Thomas West, 51, robbed, beat, bound and gagged a man in a trailer in Tucson in 1987, then left the man to die. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is preparing to ask the court for a death warrant.
Debate over drug
The sodium-thiopental debate has continued in the U.S. and Europe since October, when then-Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told The Arizona Republic that the drugs that would be used to kill Landrigan came from Great Britain.
Over the next few months, it was revealed that it was imported through a pharmaceutical supply house operating out of the back room of a driving school in London.
In documents filed Wednesday, attorneys for Beaty state that the drug was manufactured in Austria by a German firm and sold to the supply house by a British pharmaceutical firm.
Great Britain has subsequently tightened its export of sodium thiopental to keep American states from using it in executions, with Italy following suit.
In February, attorneys for death-row prisoners in Arizona and two other states filed a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision not to regulate foreign thiopental imports.
The attorneys also appealed to Holder to not help states obtain the drug while the lawsuit moves through court.
Although the DEA seized thiopental supplies imported by the Georgia Department of Corrections, Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Barrett Marson said his agency has all requisite certifications for its supply.
Beaty’s motion, however, raises new questions about the efficacy of the sodium thiopental that Arizona and at least four other states have obtained from London’s Dream Pharma. The motion contains affidavits from witnesses to two executions performed with British sodium thiopental who claim that the executed men’s eyes did not close fully after the drug was administered and affidavits from experts who claim that their eyes should shut if the drug is working.
Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix signed an affidavit claiming that Landrigan’s eyes remained one-quarter to halfway open during his execution last fall.
A Republic reporter who witnessed the execution wrote that Landrigan’s eyes closed.
But the reporter was standing at a right angle to Landrigan, while Baich was able to see Landrigan’s full face.
“The Landrigan execution was a publicly witnessed execution in which the inmate’s level of consciousness was carefully monitored by a doctor,” Assistant Arizona Attorney General Kent Cattani said. “State and federal courts have rejected challenges to Arizona’s current execution protocol, and we are comfortable that the protocol adequately minimizes the possibility that an inmate will unnecessarily suffer during an execution.”
The Beaty filing also contains a letter from a British government health official saying, “Twelve adverse drug-reaction reports concerning sodium thiopental have been received by MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) during the past two years to date. Of these, five related to lack of efficacy.”
Baich responded: “This report, along with the adverse reaction in the last three executions where the drug was used, should make the government take a closer look at how the thiopental was obtained.”
The likelihood that any of these motions will succeed is slim. The courts have consistently ruled in favor of the government to let the executions go forward.
Many states will still have to determine whether to change their methods of lethal injection in light of the sodium-thiopental shortage. Oklahoma and Ohio already have done so.
“The inmates will litigate any approach you use,” Cattani said.
And here: “Three shipments of drugs imported by the Arizona Department of Corrections were represented to U.S. customs and Food and Drug Administration officials as being for use on animals despite being intended for use in inmate executions.
According to documents obtained by The Arizona Republic under the federal Freedom of Information Act, two batches of the anesthetic sodium thiopental and one batch of the paralytic-drug pancuronium bromide were brought into the country from Britain last September and October and were described on federal import paperwork as being for “Animal (Food Producing).”
Thiopental, a painkiller, is used in executions to sedate the condemned convict, while pancuronium bromide renders the convict unable to move. A third drug, potassium chloride, is then injected to stop the heart.
The source of thiopental has been a matter of legal and political controversy in several U.S. states and European countries.
Defense attorneys have raised questions about whether the drugs were legally obtained and whether they were certain to be effective. Thiopental is meant to render an inmate unable to feel suffering during an execution. If the painkiller is ineffective, they attorneys argue, the execution could be cruel and unusual punishment.
Arizona has two executions scheduled during the next two weeks in which the drug is supposed to be used, although legal challenges are in the works.
State Corrections Director Charles Ryan said in a written statement that the department’s execution drugs were “procured lawfully” and that the department in dealings with FDA and customs “clearly stated that the purpose for acquiring these chemicals was to carry out an execution.”
It was not immediately clear whether the drugs obtained were, in fact, manufactured for animal use, or if the nature of the drugs was misstated in FDA documents.
“If FDA becomes aware of incorrect information in a filing, the agency has many options which could include further investigations and, where appropriate, pursuing civil or criminal sanctions,” FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said.
Thiopental is used for veterinary anesthesia but not for animal euthanasia.
Dr. Tom Doherty, a veterinary anesthesiologist in Knoxville, Ky., said, “You can mix it up in any strength you wish. But it wouldn’t be used in (human) clinical use if it’s labeled for animals. That wouldn’t be allowed.”
Burgess said federal approval of veterinary drugs takes other factors into account, such as whether the drugs are to be used on animals that are food-producing and calculating effects on the environment given that animals usually urinate and defecate on the ground.
“Animals are not equivalent to small humans. There are great species differences, and it’s not always a matter of dose,” Burgess said. “So, if a drug is approved for animals, it does not mean that it is safe to use in a human and vice versa.”
Thiopental has been virtually unavailable in the U.S. since last summer and has not been manufactured domestically since 2009. That prompted several state governments to look to import it.
At first, the FDA officially said that there were no legal means of importing it. But late last December, after at least five states had obtained and used foreign drugs for executions, the agency reversed its policy and said it would not police drugs used for lethal injection.
Attorneys in several states have sued the FDA over that policy. Last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized a thiopental supply from Georgia to investigate whether it had been legally imported. This week, attorneys in Arizona and Kentucky asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate supplies in their states.
A recent report from Great Britain indicates that there have been 12 adverse reactions to British-produced thiopental. Lawyers in several states maintain that it may not have worked efficiently in recent executions, claiming that at least three men died with their eyes still partly open, suggesting they were not fully sedated before the other chemicals were administered.
Documents released to The Republic by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Thursday show that the Arizona execution drugs – which were used last October to execute Jeffrey Landrigan and are expected to be used over the next two weeks to execute two more prisoners here – were labeled in import papers as drugs for use on animals.
The information was found on documents called “Form 701 Inquiry,” an FDA document that must be filled out by the importer or import broker before the drug can pass through customs. On the documents, information that would identify the importer who filled out the form was redacted. Under federal statutes, filing false federal documents is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
The state Department of Corrections has consistently refused to discuss its execution drugs other than to say they were obtained lawfully. So far, state and federal courts have upheld that position.