Oregon governor ends death penalty, botched executions spread

By Janet Post
January 9, 2023

On Dec. 13 outgoing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown commuted the death sentences of all 17 prisoners sentenced to be executed in the state. “I have long believed that justice is not advanced by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people,” said the governor in a statement. Brown also ordered the execution chamber to be shut down.

“This commutation is not based on any rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row,” said Brown. “Instead, it reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral.” They will serve life in prison with no chance of parole.

Since capital punishment is written into Oregon’s constitution, future administrations can reinstate it.

Oregon becomes one of 24 states where government officials or legislatures have abolished the death penalty. The other states allow executions, while two of them — California, the state with the most prisoners on death row, and Pennsylvania — have declared a moratorium. In addition, the federal government and military retain the death penalty. There are around 2,500 death-row prisoners nationwide.

Seventeen prisoners were executed in five states in 2022 — Alabama, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. In 2023, 33 executions have been scheduled in four states — Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

In a recent report, the Death Penalty Information Center said that 2022 could be considered “the year of the botched execution.” Of the 20 execution attempts this year, seven were “visibly problematic.”

The center quotes government guidelines for “botched” executions: “Those involving unanticipated problems or delays that caused, at least arguably, unnecessary agony for the prisoner or that reflect gross incompetence of the executioner.”

It said examples include “inmates catching fire while being electrocuted, being strangled during hangings, and being administered the wrong dosages of specific drugs for lethal injections.”

“Being prepared for execution, strapped to a gurney and stabbed again and again with needles as prison officials try and fail to kill you is torture,” Maya Foa, co-executive director of Reprieve U.S., told Newsweek.

In Arizona the May 11 execution of Clarence Dixon, who was blind, disabled and legally insane, “ended in a bloody mess — executioners tried for 25 minutes to set the IV and resorted to performing an unauthorized ‘cutdown,’ slicing into his groin to reach a vein,” the Guardian reported.

On June 8 “Arizona’s inability to set the lethal injection tubes resulted in a ‘surreal spectacle’” in the execution of Frank Atwood who “gave advice to the IV team on how to find a suitable vein in his body so they could kill him,” the paper reported.

On Sept. 22 the execution in Alabama of Alan Eugene Miller was called off after executioners needle-punctured him 18 times over 90 minutes, failing to insert a catheter. At one point he was left hanging vertically while strapped to the gurney. Miller had requested to be put to death by suffocation, but the state’s Department of Corrections claims it lost his paperwork.

Murray Hooper, 76, was executed Nov. 16 in Arizona while authorities struggled to insert the intravenous needles before finally resorting to inserting a catheter into Hooper’s femoral vein near his groin. The Associated Press reported, “A medical professional present couldn’t find a syringe the anesthetic used to numb the area.” While laying on the gurney “Hooper said, ‘I can’t believe this,’” AP wrote.

Five days after a four-hour failed attempt to kill Kenneth Eugene Smith,  Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey halted all executions until a “top-to-bottom” review is completed. But, she said, “I believe that legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system are at play here.”

“The use of the death penalty is a heinous crime, an effort to intimidate working people from fighting to change this inhuman capitalist system,” Chris Hoeppner, the 2022 Socialist Workers Party candidate for Congress from Pennsylvania, told the Militant. “That’s why it’s being used against protesters in Iran today. The SWP campaigns to win a majority of working people to fight for its abolition once and for all.”