Though 2017 had the second fewest annual prison executions in several decades—23 executions to be exact—the controversies surrounding capital punishment have yet to decline, reports Newsweek.
In the five death penalty cases Newsweek featured, issues of mental health, overlooked or incorrect use of evidence and neglect of inmates’ rights were brought to the forefront. Similarly, since all of the inmates were executed by lethal injection, disputes over the use of a new drug in the cocktails were also featured.
Ricky Jovan Gray was on Death Row for 10 years for brutally murdering seven people on a six-day killing spree in 2006. His lawyer requested he be killed by firing squad as lethal injection was essentially “chemical torture.”
The judge denied the argument on the grounds that Gray’s lawyers were given the option of the electric chair and also failed to prove the drugs in the cocktail would cause Gray unnecessary suffering.
With 343 homicides in 2017, Baltimore “had the highest murder rate in its history, and by far the highest among the nation’s 30 largest cities,” according to The New York Times 1-17-18
Ledell Lee was on Death Row for 21 years for murdering and sexually assaulting 26-year-old Debra Reese in 1993. Lee’s first lawyer had been drunk during court proceedings, negatively impacting his case.
After receiving new lawyers, Lee’s legal team requested DNA testing of hair samples that were used as exculpatory evidence. The request was denied despite the fact that the sample used to put Lee behind bars had been discredited by the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Mark James Asay was on Death Row for 18 years as the first White man in Florida to be put on death row for killing a Black man. He also was convicted for killing a White and Hispanic man who was dressed as a woman.
Asay was Florida’s first prisoner to be executed with a cocktail containing the drug etomide. His lawyers argued before the court that the drug cocktail was unconstitutional due to the pain it can cause.
Further complicating his case, Asay also faced ineffective assistance of counsel when his lawyer was placed under investigation for missing critical deadlines for appeals and for storing Asay’s records in a shed, where they were destroyed by water and vermin.
As 2017 progressed, lawyers continued to argue the use of lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment to little avail. Some witnessed what onlookers called botched executions.