We've been keeping a close eye on states experimenting with a variety of techniques and chemical cocktails while executing people. This includes, of course, the recent incident in Arizona, where the Department of Corrections took nearly two hours to kill a man after relying on a drug "that has been linked to other executions that did not go as planned."
The New York Times moves the ball forward today, noting that Arizona has guidelines on how the state is supposed to legally kill people, but there's ample evidence that officials choose not to follow those guidelines.
That improvisation is not unusual for Arizona, where corrections officials and medical staff members routinely deviate from the state's written rules for conducting executions, state records and court filings show. Sometimes they improvise even while a convict is strapped to a table in the execution chamber and waiting for the drugs coursing through his veins to take effect. [...] While it is unclear whether the constant changes have led to cruel and unusual punishment, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit became so disturbed in 2012 about the expired drugs that it chastised the state, saying Arizona "has insisted on amending its execution protocol on an ad hoc basis."
Of particular interest, the report highlighted Charles L. Ryan, who has overseen 14 Arizona executions in his capacity as the current director of the state Corrections Department. Ryan has no medical background, but as the Times' report noted, he nevertheless believes he has "virtually unlimited discretion to deviate from the written guidelines, essentially making him the ultimate arbiter in executions."
An attorney for one executed convict added, "There's the protocol that's in place and there's what happens, and those aren't necessarily the same thing. What we've learned from this execution is that the Department of Corrections was making it up as it went along."
Well, that certainly inspires confidence in the integrity of the system, doesn't it?
Of course, it's not just Arizona.
The Times talked to Douglas Berman, an expert on criminal sentencing at Ohio State University, who said other states have drawn scrutiny for their "loose adherence to lethal injection protocols."
That includes Ohio, where Ben Crair reports today that state officials were worried about using untested chemical cocktails in an execution -- fearing the convict would "gasp" and "hyperventilate" as he died -- but they proceeded anyway.