The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding lethal injection sent a shudder through death row Wednesday, and prosecutors and governors around the country said they would move forward with carrying out death sentences as quickly as the courts can set execution dates.
"It’s just terrible," said Paris Powell, a convicted killer at the Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester. He added: "It’s like the air has just been let out of a balloon. There’s disbelief that the ruling came so quickly, but it goes further than just right now. It’s now official that the death penalty is here to stay forever, really."
The ruling came after what amounted to a seven-month moratorium on executions in the U.S., as states awaited a ruling from the high court. In the case from Kentucky, death penalty foes argued unsuccessfully that the widely used three-drug cocktail can cause excruciating pain in violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
In Texas, easily the No. 1 death penalty state, 40 condemned convicts who had all but exhausted their appeals had been awaiting the outcome of the case, said University of Houston law professor David Dow, who represents death row inmates. Texas has 357 inmates on death row.
In Texas, judges set execution dates. By law, execution dates must be set at least a month in advance, so no execution could take place before mid-May at the earliest.
The chief prosecutor in Houston, Kenneth Magidson, whose surrounding Harris County sends more inmates to death row than any other, said he would seek execution dates for the six inmates awaiting execution “in due course.”
'Waiting for justice'
In Oklahoma, where 84 people are on death row, Attorney General Drew Edmondson said he will request an execution date for two condemned inmates who have run out of appeals. The executions could be held as early as June, allowing 60 days for each inmate to receive a final clemency hearing.
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine promptly lifted a moratorium on capital punishment that he imposed April 1 when he stayed the execution of a man who killed a police officer.
In Florida, where a botched execution in 2006 may have caused an inmate extreme pain, Gov. Charlie Crist said he asked one of his lawyers to put together “a very short list” of death warrants to consider signing. Florida has 338 inmates on death row.
“Justice delayed is justice denied, and an awful lot of families of the victims have been waiting for justice to be done, and so that’s certainly an important factor,” he said.
The nation’s last execution was Sept. 25, when a Texas inmate was put to death by injection for raping and shooting to death a mother of seven. The presiding judge of the state’s highest criminal court refused to keep the court open past 5 p.m. that day so that the condemned man’s lawyers could file a late appeal that would have spared his life at least until the Supreme Court decided the Kentucky case.
Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 405 inmates, more than any other state. Virginia is second with 99.
It was in Oklahoma that the three-drug lethal cocktail was invented 31 years ago. Death row inmates in the bunker-like H-unit at the 100-year-old Oklahoma State Prison talk about the possibility of a painfully botched execution, Powell told The Associated Press.
“Everybody has heard horror stories. I’ve heard them myself, but how can you confirm them?” he asked. “I’ve never seen anybody walk through that door upstairs ever come back.”