Top Texas court won't block execution this week
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday cleared the way for
executions to resume in the nation's most active death penalty state when
it turned aside an appeal that challenged the constitutionality of lethal
In a ruling late Monday, the state's highest criminal court refused to
stop the scheduled execution of Karl Eugene Chamberlain, set to die
Wednesday for the rape-slaying of a woman in Dallas in 1991.
The same issues successfully worked last week for another condemned Texas
inmate, Derrick Sonnier, who avoided the death chamber about 90 minutes
before he would have become the first prisoner in Texas executed in nearly
In his appeal, Chamberlain argued the chemicals used by Texas prison
officials during lethal injections "would violate his Eighth Amendment
right against cruel and unusual punishment," according to the court
"We have reviewed (Chamberlain's) subsequent application and find that it
should be dismissed," the court said.
2 of the court's 9 judges dissented.
Similarly, the court denied at least two other appeals and a motion for a
stay of execution.
David Schulman, an attorney for Chamberlain, said Monday evening he hoped
the issue could be pursued in the federal courts but was uncertain whether
he would file such an appeal. "We'll see what happens (Tuesday)," he said.
Other lawyers for Chamberlain already had appeals raising other issues
before the U.S. Supreme Court even before the Texas court ruled on the
lethal injection claim.
Monday's ruling also would appear to clear the way for a new execution
date to be set for Sonnier, condemned for the slaying of a suburban
Houston woman and her young son some 17 years ago.
Chamberlain was arrested five years after Felicia Prechtl was raped and
fatally shot at her East Dallas apartment after his thumbprint was lifted
from a roll of duct tape used to bind the 30-year-old single mom. He lived
in the same apartment complex at the time. Chamberlain's fingerprints got
into a police database after he was arrested for a robbery in Houston and
wound up on probation.
Chamberlain, whose confession to police was part of the evidence against
him, has not denied his involvement in the woman's death.
"I'm not trying to excuse my crime or justify my actions," Chamberlain,
who would turn 38 later this month, said recently from death row. "It was
a horrible mistake.
"My greatest regret is going down there and not killing myself."
Prechtl's brother and his girlfriend had taken her 5-year-old son to a
video store to get a movie while she got ready to go out on a date.
Chamberlain knocked on her door to borrow some sugar. Then he returned
with a rifle and attacked and shot her. When Prechtl's son and babysitters
returned home, they found her body.
Executions in Texas and elsewhere in the nation were on hold since late
September after 2 Kentucky prisoners challenged the constitutionality of
lethal injection procedures. Then when the Supreme Court in April upheld
the method, the de facto moratorium was lifted and executions were allowed
to resum, although Sonnier's set for last week in Texas was halted with a
reprieve from the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Sonnier's appeal cited a then-unresolved case before the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals in seeking his reprieve.
Chamberlain's execution would be the 6th this year nationally. He's among
at least 13 condemned Texas prisoners with execution dates in the coming
(source: Associated Press)
Ethical implications of modifying lethal injection protocols
A team of medical, ethical, and legal scholars argues in this week's PLoS
Medicine that in some US states the modification of lethal injection
protocols is tantamount to experimentation upon prisoners without the
prisoners' consent and without any ethical safeguards.
Drs. Leonidas Koniaris and Teresa Zimmers (University of Miami Miller
School of Medicine, Miami, Florida, USA) and colleagues lay out evidence
obtained in litigation and from Freedom of Information act requests that
suggests that at least 10 states are performing regimens that may be akin
to human experimentation.
"The collective practice of lethal injection," say the authors, "has
employed invasive testing of different drug protocols and devices, data
collection and monitoring, and systematic review with outcome data being
used to revise practice." Certain lethal injection inquiries, they say,
may therefore constitute human subjects research.
While death row inmates have been stripped of the right to freedom and to
life, say the authors, they maintain the right to bodily integrity and the
right to refuse to be experimented upon. And yet in these 10 states,
Koniaris and Zimmer's analysis finds that inmates were not asked for their
consent to be included in lethal injection practices, which are
essentially experimental in nature.
Guidelines for the ethical conduct of research involving humans, such as
the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki, were developed at
least partially as a way of ensuring that medical researchers would not
exploit vulnerable prisoner populations. In the US, researchers who
conduct studies on humans are required to follow the "Common Rule" (the
Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects)., which provides
protection for research participants by requiring institutional assurance
of compliance with federal regulations, institutional review board (IRB)
review, approval, and oversight, and informed consent of the participants.
In Koniaris and Zimmers' analysis, none of the ten states undertaking
regimens with prisoners being executed followed the Common Rulefor
example, prisoners had not given consent to be experimented upon and
institutional review boards had not approved the use of what is
essentially a n experiment protocol.
Lethal injection for execution has largely replaced other execution
methods in the US, in part due to the appearance of a peaceful death. But
evidence suggests that some inmates suffer extreme paintriggering legal
challenges against lethal injection on the grounds that it violates the
United States' constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual
punishment. (see, for example, a previous PLoS Medicine paper, by Dr
Zimmers and colleagues in 2007: Lethal Injection for Execution: Chemical
Asphyxiation? PLoS Med 4(4): e156 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040156).
Jurists are now demanding that lethal injection protocols be amended, say
Dr Zimmers and colleagues, to comply with this constitutional prohibition.
However, even as jurists demand lethal injection protocol changes, say the
authors, "corrections officials, governors, and their medical
collaborators are left in a legal and ethical quandaryin order to comply
with the law and carry out their duties, they are employing the tools and
methods of biomedical inquiry without its ethical safeguards."
Given the current guidelines for human experimentation, they say, "it is
difficult to conceive of circumstances in which lethal injection research
activities could be carried out in a fashion consistent with these ethical
norms, and yet those engaged in such research would seem to be required to
Citation: Koniaris LG, Goodman KW, Sugarman J, Ozomaro U, Sheldon J, et
al. (2008) Ethical implications of modifying lethal injection protocols.
PLoS Med 5(6): e126.
(source: About PLoS Medicine —-Public Library of Science
PLoS Medicine is an open access, freely available international medical
journal. It publishes original research that enhances our understanding of
human health and disease, together with commentary and analysis of
important global health issues. For more information, visit
About the Public Library of Science
The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of
scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and
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information, visit http://www.plos.org )