Advocates Mourn 1000th Legal Injection

7-24-09, 9:47 am

The Atlanta Progressive News

(APN) ATLANTA – The State of Ohio executed death row inmate Marvallous Keene, 36, on Tuesday, July 21, 2009, marking the 1,000th time in the United States that the government has killed a prisoner by lethal injection.

Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP) marked the occasion with a rally and march against the death penalty, from Atlanta's Five Points MARTA station to downtown Woodruff Park, redoubling their calls to end the practice of state-sponsored executions.

'On this terrible anniversary, [GFADP] remains steadfast in building a movement in Georgia and beyond to abolish the death penalty,' Sara Totonchi of GFADP said. “We know now more than ever that there must be an immediate halt to the use of the death penalty to study of the wide-ranging, well-documented problems with capital punishment.'

Such problems, she said, include arbitrary sentencing based on race and class biases, inadequate funding for indigent defense, a failure to guarantee defense counsel in state habeas corpus proceedings, and even problems with the three-drug method used during lethal injections.

'Mounting evidence suggests some prisoners may have suffered horribly and needlessly before they died because executioners use a bizarre three-drug protocol hastily concocted 30 years ago and never revised,' Totonchi said.

The drug mix starts with an anesthetic, moves to a paralytic, and concludes with potassium chloride to stop the heart. Totonchi argued the use of the paralytic makes it impossible to determine if the anesthetic keeps the person from suffering.

'The idea of humane execution is a contradiction in terms,' she said. 'All executions are inherently cruel.'

Oklahoma became the first state to adopt the lethal injection method in 1977. Five years later, Texas became the first state to perform an execution using the method.

Thirty-six states plus the U.S. government and U.S. military now use lethal injection.

Keene became prisoner 1,000 after Texas granted a stay of execution last week for Kenneth Mosely.

Keene and three accomplices went on a killing spree starting on Christmas Eve 1992 and did not stop for three days, leaving six people dead and two wounded.

A jury convicted Keene of five murders and sent him to death row while sending his three accomplices to jail for life.

During a June 17, 2009, clemency hearing, Keene told his attorneys not to present evidence on his behalf because he did not want to cause more pain for the victims’ families, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland denied clemency for Keene last week but Keene did not bother to ask for it, according to the AP.

Despite the brutality and cold-blooded nature of the crime, activists said no person should ever be put to death.

'I don’t think there are any circumstance under which execution is justified,' James Clark, coordinator with GFADP, said. 'Devaluing any human life ends up devaluing the victims’ lives. The fact that we hold those five people that he killed as so valuable – I think that applies to every human life, including his.'

Keene declined to meet with any religious officials before the execution, the AP reported. While nine members of the victims’ families were on hand for the execution, two defense attorneys were the only witnesses for Keene.

'I don’t think it really makes much sense or [is] just to judge the value of a person’s life by the worst moment of that life,' Clark said.

The United States has five total methods of execution, more than any country in the world. Since the death penalty became legal again on July 2, 1976, there have been 1,000 lethal injections, 155 electrocutions, 11 deaths by gas, three hangings, and two shootings by firing squads.

--Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer with Atlanta Progressive News, reachable at