Death Penalty

2022 could be called 'the year of the botched execution,' new report says

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Seven of 20 execution attempts in 2022 were “visibly problematic” in 2022, according to a year-end report by the Death Penalty Information Center.

The problems stemmed from executioner incompetence, failures to follow protocols or defects in the protocols, according to the report. Because of those failures, 2022 could be called “the year of the botched execution,” the report said.

A Dec. 16 press release is here, and a summary is here.

In “the longest botched lethal-injection execution in U.S. history” in Alabama, executioners weren’t able to set an IV line for three hours in July for Joe James Jr., who was convicted for killing his girlfriend, the report said. Two more scheduled executions were called off when executioners again had problems starting the IVs.

Since then, Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey paused executions for a review of the system. Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has also paused executions and appointed a former U.S. attorney to review the lethal-injection process.

The death penalty was imposed in 20 cases in 2022 as of the morning of Dec. 16. Possible capital sentences were possible in two more cases in San Bernardino County, California. Even if death sentences are imposed in those cases, the year’s total of 22 death sentences would be the lowest in the last 50 years, with the exception of the COVID-19 pandemic years 2020 and 2021.

The report noted that 37 states have abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in more than a decade.

Earlier this week, Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that she was commuting the sentences of the state’s 17 death row inmates to life in prison without parole. The Oregonian had coverage.

The five-year average of executions is 18.6 per year, the lowest average in more than 30 years, according to the report.

Ten of this year’s 18 executions were carried out in Oklahoma and Texas. The only other states that executed prisoners in 2022 were Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi and Missouri.

Those executed included people with serious mental illnesses, brain damages, intellectual disabilities and strong claims of innocence, the report said. Two people were executed, even though prosecutors sought to withdraw the death warrants.

Jamila Hodge, executive director Equal Justice USA, an organization that works to transform the justice system, commented on the report in a statement.

“This latest annual report shows growing trends away from the death penalty that make it abundantly clear capital punishment in America is on the way out,” Hodge said. “Racial bias in the system can be found everywhere in the report, reinforcing why more Americans see the death penalty as an instrument of racial oppression. And the data reveal the system preys on those with severe trauma and mental illness, people whom we have failed as a society.”

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