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Q&A: The death penalty

Why does it matter how long the execution takes?

It isn't the length of time that is the issue, but whether his punishment was cruel and unusual, something prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld society's right to execute prisoners but has insisted that all constitutional guarantees be met.

Is this the first time there has been a problem with the lethal injection protocol?

No, there have been problems in Ohio and in Oklahoma. In January, convicted killer Dennis McGuire made snorting and gasping sounds as he was executed in Ohio by lethal injection. In April, Calvin Lockett writhed and grimaced during what probably was the most obvious of the controversial executions, this one in Oklahoma.

Have there always been problems in executing inmates?

There have always been questions about techniques, such as hanging, electrocution and the use of firing squads. All are lethal, but are they humane and do they meet the constitutional requirement to avoid cruel and unusual punishment?

Why did the states change their original drug protocols?

Until about 2009, most states used a three-drug combination: a powerful anesthetic such as pentobarbital, a paralyzing agent such as pancuronium bromide and something to stop the heart, often potassium chloride. But by 2010, many suppliers — particularly companies in Europe, where the death penalty is generally banned — came under public pressure and stopped making their medications available for executions. That touched off problems for many states, forcing them to seek other sources for drugs needed for executions.

Where do the states get the drugs now?

Finding an adequate supply has been a problem, so states have been experimenting with different drugs, combinations and dosages. Exactly where the drugs come from is generally not known because most states have laws that protect the identities of the suppliers and even the names and dosages of the drugs used.

What was used in Arizona?

Arizona used a two-drug combination of midazolam, a sedative and muscle relaxant, and hydromorphone, a powerful member of the opioid class. It is the same drug combination that caused problems in Ohio. Several states turned to midazolam after they ran out of the more powerful barbiturate drugs. In Oklahoma, the state used a three-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, a combination never before used in that state. Florida uses the same combination, in stronger doses.

Los Angeles Times

Q&A: The death penalty 07/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014 9:33pm]

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