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A third of US executions 'botched' in 2022

By AI HEPING in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-12-19 07:40

The US continued a two-decade decline in the use of the death penalty in 2022, but an annual capital punishment report released on Friday called it the "Year of the Botched Execution" as more than a third of execution attempts in 2022 were mishandled.

The report described as "shocking" seven execution attempts that took place in three states as the total number of executions remained among the lowest in a generation. The report was done by the Washington, DC-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a nonprofit which takes no position on capital punishment but has criticized the way states carry out executions.

There were 18 executions in 2022, the fewest in any pre-pandemic year since 1991. In 2021, there were 11 executions. According to the report, the seven execution attempts in three states were visibly problematic or took "an inordinate amount of time", including two that were ultimately abandoned. That prompted some states to put them on hold so processes and protocols could be reviewed.

Execution attempts cited as botched in the report included three in Alabama, where death chamber staff members cut open one man's arm to insert an IV and, in two other attempted executions, were unable to insert IV lines before the men's death warrants expired.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey last month suspended lethal injections pending review after the state's second and third botched executions in four years.

The other problematic execution attempts were in Oklahoma and Texas, where officials struggled for some time before ultimately finding suitable veins.

Other concerns with executions included a South Carolina judge's ruling in September that called unconstitutional the state's newly created execution firing squad, as well as its use of the electric chair. The state's supreme court is set to hear arguments on the issue next month.

Republican governors in Ohio and Tennessee issued execution reprieves this year. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued nine death penalty reprieves, citing ongoing issues with lethal injection drugs and their administration. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee temporarily halted executions and called for an independent review of the state's death penalty after a review of state records found that it hadn't followed its own execution rules since 2018.

The report found that the number of executions in 2022 remained significantly lower than a decade ago, when more than twice as many death row prisoners were killed. Public polling also showed that support for the death penalty continued a steady slide from its peak in the mid-1990s. As public support for the death penalty has waned, the number of death sentences and executions has largely been in decline since the late 1990s; in 1999, 98 people were executed.

DPIC executive Director Robert Dunham said in the report that none of the improperly administered executions were based on reactions to the lethal injection drugs but rather failures by corrections personnel.

The seven execution attempts considered botched, there were instances in which corrections staff took longer than 15 minutes to set an IV line or the prisoner required a surgical "cut-down" to an artery in the groin or neck to expose a vein, according to the report.

"Those are things that states are supposed to be able to do properly. And it goes to the question in the mind of a growing number of people about whether [the government] can be trusted to carry out the death penalty," Dunham told The Washington Post.

The death penalty remains in 27 states but was only used in six this year. This year more than half of all executions came from two states: Oklahoma and Texas.

States where the death penalty remains for years have had difficulties obtaining lethal injection drugs after most major pharmaceutical suppliers pulled their product from corrections facilities. Some states short on drugs have tried — with minimal success — to revive long-abandoned alternatives and force prisoners to opt for death by firing squad or gas chamber if lethal injection is not available.

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