The United States Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Arizona death row inmate Cook requesting that his death sentence be overturned. Cook was convicted of murder for the 1987 strangling deaths of two men in Lake Havasu City. The justices did not comment on their order. Cook says his death sentence should be reversed because he has post-traumatic stress disorder and organic brain damage. In a separate appeal, Cook’s lawyers are challenging the use of a controversial sedative used in the execution process that could potentially cause Cook a little pain before he dies. (1) At the same time, a judge in Arizona informed the Tucson shooting suspect he could be facing the death penalty for his deeds that early Saturday morning where he recklessly fired his handgun into a crowd meeting with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords on her Congress on the Corner event at the Safeway supermarket. The article cited stated that the “judge asked if he understood that he could get life in prison ‘” or the death penalty ‘” for killing federal Judge John Roll, in the shooting rampage. Giffords was a vocal opponent of the law and a supporter of Obama’s healthcare law widely opposed by conservatives. Loughner is charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. Those are federal charges.” (2)
A 1993 California study argues that each death penalty case “costs at least $1.25 million more than a non-death penalty murder case and a sentence of life without possibility of parole.” Opponents of lethal injection argue that far from being humane, the procedure actually can cause excruciating pain. This allegation – that the current, three-drug method of lethal injection can cause inmates significant levels of pain – was at the heart of the Baze case. In order to establish an “objectively intolerable risk” of pain, those challenging lethal injection or another method of execution on Eighth Amendment grounds need to show that the method in question creates a “demonstrated risk of severe pain,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote challengers must show that there are feasible alternative methods that significantly reduce risk of pain. Although seven justices voted to uphold Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol, there was little agreement among those in the majority. Longer term, the tough standards laid out by Chief Justice Roberts in the decision will make it difficult for death row inmates and death penalty opponents to challenge lethal injection or other methods of capital punishment on Eighth Amendment grounds in the future. A national study of 4,578 capital appeals over a 23-year period found that 68% of the death sentences were reversed because of serious error. (3)
“Smart on Crime” is a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center that explores the prospect of saving states hundreds of millions of dollars by ending the death penalty. The nation’s police chiefs rank the death penalty last in their priorities for effective crime reduction. Criminologists concur that the death penalty does not effectively reduce the number of murders. New Mexico abolished the death penalty and the Connecticut legislature passed an abolition bill before the governor vetoed it. As the economic crisis continues, the trend of states reexamining the death penalty in light of its costs is expected to continue. The money spent to preserve this failing system could be directed to effective programs that make society safer. California is spending an estimated $137 million per year on the death penalty and has not had an execution in three and a half years. Florida is spending approximately $51 million per year on the death penalty, amounting to a cost of $24 million for each execution it carries out. A recent study in Maryland found that the bill for the death penalty over a twenty-year period that produced five executions will be $186 million. Other states like New York and New Jersey spent well over $100 million on a system that produced no executions. Both recently abandoned the practice. The report that follows analyzes the costs of the death penalty as measured in various state studies. (4) The movement to abolish capital punishment has an equally long history. In 1847, for instance, Michigan became the first state to effectively end capital punishment. As noted earlier, there have been just over 1,000 executions since 1976, when the Supreme Court ruled that states could once again employ the death penalty. Opposition to the death penalty also has helped to change the way people are executed. According to the American Medical Association, in 15 states, laws require medical doctors to at least be present during an execution because lethal injection is a medical procedure. Physician opposition has made it difficult for some states to find adequate medical personnel to conduct executions. No Western European or Central European countries execute felons, regardless of the severity of the crime. Moreover, many countries that still have death penalty laws on the books, including Russia and Brazil, have stopped executing inmates. In Europe and elsewhere, the worldwide abolition of the death penalty has become a major human rights issue, and countries like the United States are routinely criticized for continuing to execute inmates. Capital punishment has a long and nearly uninterrupted history in the United States. (5)
This writer was formerly employed with the Arizona Department of Corrections and the past unit administrator of Arizona’s death row section in 2007 – 2008, and can attest to the conditions and dynamics involved in the management of such death row inmates. Having been personally present for the death warrants served during his term as a deputy warden of death row, it was observed with first hand knowledge of the tremendous amount of resources the state of Arizona puts into the housing, the custodial responsibilities, the preparation and the legal termination of a death row inmate in Arizona. Robert Charles Comer’s execution on May 22, 2007 was the last in Arizona and the first in the state since Donald Miller was executed on Nov. 8, 2000. The trend however, is definitely not over as there are currently 134 inmates on Arizona’s death row awaiting their turn. The notes for the reading of death warrant on inmate Jeffrey T. Landrigan, ADC#082157, on Wednesday, September 26, 2007 show a somber and a very quiet moment as he is being advised that he will be put to death. Landrigan’s scheduled execution was postponed by the Arizona Supreme Court after the U.S. Supreme Court said it would decide the Kentucky case. The warrant on inmate Daniel Cook was read and also postponed by the Supreme Court. The Arizona Supreme Court ordered the execution of inmate Jeffrey Landrigan, #82157, on Oct. 26, 2010. Today, the U.S. Supreme court rejected the final appeal of inmate David Wayne Cook who will be scheduled to be executed here in the near future.