A man executed by Alabama on Thursday night heaved and coughed for 13 minutes before dying, and critics of capital punishment said his reaction was caused by a drug that should be banned because it does not render a prisoner sufficiently unconscious.
Alabama used sedative midazolam in its lethal injection mix to execute 45-year-old Ronald Smith. Midazolam, a valium-like drug, has been used in executions in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona that took longer than usual or were botched. In some instances, witnesses said convicted murderers twisted on gurneys before dying.
The drug has also been used in executions in Florida.
Thirty-one U.S. states allow the death penalty.
“It shows there is a clear and ongoing risk that prisoners who are executed in a multi-drug protocol using midazolam are going to be exposed to searing pain during the course of the execution,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, which examines issues regarding U.S. capital punishment.
Smith, convicted of murdering a convenience store clerk in 1994, underwent two consciousness tests to make sure he could not feel pain, media witness Kent Faulk wrote for the news website al.com.
Smith was also seen moving his lips after the drugs were administered in the execution, which took 34 minutes, Faulk wrote.
Critics have contended that the drug does not achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery and is therefore unsuitable for executions. Supporters have said it is an effective chemical, the use of which has been authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 ruling in June 2015 in support of midazolam, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that death row inmates in Oklahoma challenging its use had, among other things, failed to show there was an alternative method of execution available that would be less painful.
The inmates failed to demonstrate that “any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and available alternative method of execution,” Alito said.
In Alabama and other states, midazolam is typically used in combination with a drug that halts breathing and another that stops the heart.
States have been looking for drugs for lethal injections after a number of drugmakers, mostly European, began banning sales of their products for use in executions over ethical concerns.
This year, U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. halted sales of its products for use in executions over similar concerns. This includes midazolam, pancuronium bromide, which can be used as a paralytic agent that halts breathing, and potassium chloride, which can cause cardiac arrest.
(Writing and additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz)
Missouri man threatened to ‘kill every gay person I can’ at St. Louis PrideFest: police
A Missouri man this week was charged with making a terrorist threat after he said he planned to "kill every gay person I can" at St. Louis's annual PrideFest.
The St. Louis Dispatch reports that court documents filed this week claim that 49-year-old Edward A. Terry of Overland, Missouri created a fake email account and sent a message to a PrideFest organizer saying that he would "come to pride fest with my guns to kill every gay person I can before I kill myself."
Establishment Dems pressuring new congress members to attend AIPAC Israel junket: report
For years, freshman Democratic lawmakers have faced pressure to attend an AIPAC sponsored trip to Israel, where they were denied access to Gaza and other territories controlled by Israel.
The pressure remains stronger than ever today, reports The Intercept, even as Israel's mideast policy is increasingly questioned.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) assured AIPAC that this year the trip would be as well attended as it has been previously. “Like many of you, I’ve traveled to the communities in the south of Israel that have endured rockets and tunnels. I’ve traveled with over 150 of my fellow Democratic members of Congress to meet with those who live under the constant threat of terror,” he said in an April address to AIPAC.
Trump leveled by retired general for making Iran war decisions based on advice from Fox News hosts
During a panel discussion on the increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran after a drone was shot down by the Middle Eastern country in international airspace, a retired general claimed he was worried about Donald Trump's response based upon who it appears the president listens to when it comes to advice.
Speaking with host John Berman, retired Lt. General Mark Hertling warned that the shootdown was a dangerous provocation.
"It's huge, John," Hertling explained. "You can go all the way from backing down completely to a full-scale war -- that's what's dangerous about this situation."