Execution Protocols: without Guidance or Restrictions

Today it is exactly ten years since Willie Manning came very close to being executed. Five years ago we remembered that day through a series of quotations; those words still have the power to invoke the emotions that we felt on May 7, 2013.

After Willie’s brush with death, executions in Mississippi were paused to allow litigation about the state’s lethal injection protocol to proceed. Sadly, that pause has now ended: there have been two executions within the last 18 months. David Cox was killed in November, 2021, and Thomas Loden in December, 2022. Both executions relied on lethal injections of midazolam (which is controversial because it is a sedative rather than an anesthetic); vecuronium bromide, a paralytic; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Loden was one of several inmates challenging the state’s use of midazolam and another drug, compounded pentobarbital, in its lethal injection protocol. However, last year Mississippi gave to its Department of Corrections Commissioner and two deputy commissioners unprecedented authority to choose an execution method from: lethal injection, gas chamber, electrocution or firing squad. In allowing Loden’s execution, District Court Judge Wingate pointed out that Mississippi would otherwise simply have chosen another of its now-permitted execution methods.

Willie may have escaped execution ten years ago, but in the mean time Mississippi has increasingly abandoned any pretence of transparency or decency. It does not disclose how it procures its drugs for executions; it no longer requires an anesthetic to be used as part of a lethal injection protocol; and it does not specify how Department of Corrections’ officials should decide what execution method to select. As Ngozi Ndulue, deputy director of the Death Penalty Information Center comments,
“This statute throws it all into the hands of the Mississippi Department of Corrections without guidance and restrictions.”

Fortunately, on death row conditions have recently improved. Willie can go outside more, where watching the birds gives him pleasure. We trust he can focus on this, and leave others to fight the disgrace that is the Mississippi death penalty.

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