US Government Simultaneously Very Good And Very Bad At Killing People
Fil:SQ Lethal Injection Room.jpg – Wikipedia

The death penalty is dying out. According to the Death Penalty Information Center's (DPIC) year-end report, there were fewer executions this year than any non-pandemic year since 1991 — just 18 total — and only 22 new death sentences. That's the good news. The bad news is that out of the 20 attempted executions this year, seven of them were botched "as a result of executioner incompetence, failures to follow protocols, or defects in the protocols themselves," leading researchers to call 2022 "the year of the botched execution."

This included the death of Joe Nathan James in Alabama, who was subjected to three and a half hours of excruciating pain while executioners tried to find a vein in what is now the longest botched execution in US history.

It also included two particularly disturbing incidents in Arizona. In May, while trying to set the IV, executioners cut into Clarence Dixon's groin in order to find a vein. In June, Frank Atwood, possibly innocent of the crime he was being executed for, had to help the execution team with finding a vein so that they could kill him.

At least part of the reason for the low number of executions this year was the fact that several states put theirs on hold after botching other executions or being otherwise unable to follow execution protocols.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey paused executions in the state in order to review the process following the incident with James and two other executions being put off due to difficulties setting an IV line. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee canceled all pending executions after discovering that the state's execution team didn't bother to test the chemicals they planned to kill Oscar Smith with for contamination. Idaho's plans for an execution were scrapped when it turned out they didn't actually have the drugs they needed to perform it. South Carolina had hoped to execute two people but were also unable to get the drugs to do so — and was then barred by a trial court from using the electric chair or a firing squad as alternative methods of execution.

But wait — it gets worse!


As in past years, the vast majority of those executed in 2022 were individuals with significant vulnerabilities. At least 13 of the 18 people executed in 2022 had one or more of the following impairments: serious mental illness (8); brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the intellectually disabled range (5); and/or chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect, and/or abuse (12). Three prisoners were executed for crimes committed in their teens: Matthew Reeves and Gilbert Postelle were 18 at the time of their crimes; Kevin Johnson was 19. At least four of the people executed this year were military veterans: John Ramirez, Benjamin Cole, Richard Fairchild, and Thomas Loden Jr.

It seems like maybe we should not execute people who have serious mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities? Or anyone, really, but that seems especially not okay.

DPIC Venn Diagram showing the overlap of executed prisoners with childhood trauma, intellectual disabilities and serious mental illness.Death Penalty Information Center

In more cheerful news, Oregon Governor Kate Brown commuted the sentences of all 17 death row prisoners in the state to life in prison last week and today the Nevada Board of Pardons will discuss whether to commute the sentences of all of 57 of their death row inmates. Because the only good number of people to execute is 0.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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