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ACLU -- Death Penalty News

Arizona Botches Execution, Imposes Cruel and Unusual Punishment on Joseph Wood

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 7:29pm

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

NEW YORK – At 3:49 PM MST, the state of Arizona executed Joseph Wood by lethal injection. This was the fifth execution in the United States since Clayton Lockett's horrific death in Oklahoma in April. Says Cassandra Stubbs, Director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project:

Today the state of Arizona broke the Eighth Amendment, the First Amendment, and the bounds of basic decency. Joseph Wood suffered cruel and unusual punishment when he was apparently left conscious long after the drugs were administered. According to his emergency papers filed by his attorneys, he was choking and snorting over an hour into the process. In its rush to put Mr. Wood to death in secret, Arizona ignored the dire and clear warnings from the botched executions of Oklahoma and Ohio. It's time for Arizona and the other states still using lethal injection to admit that this experiment with unreliable drugs is a failure. Instead of hiding lethal injection under layers of foolish secrecy, these states need to show us where the drugs are coming from. Until they can give assurances that the drugs will work as intended, they must stop future executions.

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU of Florida Responds to U.S. Supreme Court Striking Down Florida Law Setting Strict I.Q. Limit for Executions

Tue, 05/27/2014 - 12:00am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

MIAMI – Today, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision striking down a Florida law that set strict criteria based on IQ test scores to determine a defendant’s eligibility for the death penalty.

Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, responded to the decision with the following statement:

"No one should be surprised that the U.S. Supreme Court will not permit the Florida legislature to impose the death penalty contrary to what Justice Kennedy declared 'our nation's commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world.'

"The Supreme Court is telling Florida leaders — who passed the unconstitutional law allowing for the execution of Freddie Hall — that if you want to impose the death penalty, it must be done in a way that respects standards of decency and basic human rights.

"This is not the first time the Legislature has ignored standards of decency set by the U.S. Supreme Court and it likely will not be the last. The strict IQ rule struck down by the Supreme Court today is just one example of the many ways in which our state’s death penalty system falls short of constitutional and human rights standards. We should expect the Supreme Court to take more control over Florida’s death penalty system in the future.

"Florida’s death penalty system is broken, and if state leaders wish to continue sentencing people to die, they must address that system’s failings. Florida is the only state in the country where the vote of a simple majority of jurors can recommend that a person receive a sentence of death.  This has contributed to our state’s record of having the most errors and exonerations from death row.

"Unless the Legislature fixes the system by which death can be imposed by the vote of a simple majority, it is likely that the Court will take that – and more – out of their hands."

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU-TN: Tennessee’s Electric Chair Mandate Wrong, Backward

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 12:00am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

NASHVILLE –Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation Thursday evening making Tennessee the first state to mandate use of electrocution when lethal injections are unavailable. Tennessee legislators passed the legislation in April by an overwhelming majority.

Since 1973, nearly 150 people have been released from death row because they were innocent. Others were executed before their innocence was later proven. Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 in Texas though an independent investigation has now concluded he was innocent. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 in Texas for an arson that killed his three children. Impartial investigators now say there was no arson.

Eighteen states in and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, including Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director:

Regardless of the method, state killing is wrong. Tennessee took a huge step backward by mandating use of the electric chair—an extremely brutal and cruel means of execution—at a time when eighteen states have recognized that the death penalty is unfair and unjust and repealed it altogether. The death penalty does not achieve real justice when over 100 people sentenced to death have been exonerated and decisions about who lives and who dies are largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, the race of the victim, and where the crime took place.  Life without parole is a better way to keep communities safe without sacrificing our values.

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Missouri and Oklahoma Executions Will Violate International Law: ACLU Petitions Human Rights Tribunal

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 12:00am

Execution in Missouri Less Than Two Days Away

May 19, 2014

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

NEW YORK – This morning, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition with the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights showing that the upcoming executions by lethal injection in Missouri and Oklahoma will most certainly violate international law against torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, should they go forward. The ACLU asks that the executions be stopped until the IACHR can conduct independent investigations of the two cases.

At 12:01 AM CT on Wednesday, May 21, the state of Missouri is scheduled to execute Russell Bucklew, the first death-row prisoner in the U.S. to be executed since the horrifically botched killing of Clayton Lockett by lethal injection in Oklahoma. Physicians predict that lethal injection for Mr. Bucklew will be prolonged, torturous, and gruesome due to his cavernous hemangioma, a rare, lifelong, and severe condition that causes, among other problems, weakening of his veins and tumors in his nose and throat that severely compromise his airway. The state plans to use compounded pentobarbital, the same drug that has repeatedly proved problematic, including in the botched January 9, 2014, execution of Michael Lee Wilson, in Oklahoma, whose last words were "I feel my whole body burning," and in other executions that appeared to have serious difficulties.

Charles Warner is scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma in November. The state has resisted initiating a third-party independent investigation of Mr. Lockett’s death. The petition asks the IACHR to request an independent investigation as a prerequisite to any preparations for Mr. Warner’s execution. 

Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, said, "Lethal injection in the United States has reached such a level of barbarism that the world needs to know the facts. The application of the death penalty itself in the U.S. violates international human rights standards, yet we continue to administer it with methods shown over and over to flout our own constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It’s time for the depravity to end."

In addition to detailing the cruelty in recent executions by lethal injection, the ACLU’s petition outlines the many ways in which the governments of Oklahoma and Missouri have hidden crucial information from the prisoners to be executed and the public. Cassandra Stubbs, Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, noted, "Both the Oklahoma and Missouri governments have bent over backwards to keep secrets about lethal injection: they won’t let the public know where the drugs come from, who makes them, whether they have been tested for contaminants—the list goes on. We need these facts. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing that the same horrors won’t happen again and again, in our name."

The ACLU’s petition is available here:

For more information about the ACLU’s Human Rights Program:

For more information about the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project:

Categories: Prisoners Rights