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More than a third of executions in 2022 were 'botched,' a report finds

A Texas death chamber located in Huntsville, TX.
Joe Raedle
/
Getty Images
A Texas death chamber located in Huntsville, TX.

Earlier this year, Arizona executioners struggled to insert an IV line into a man on death row, and had to be guided by the prisoner himself on how to do so. And in Alabama, the execution team reportedly struggled for hours to find a vein.

These cases were among seven botched execution attempts recorded in 2022. Death penalty researchers found that mishandled incidents made up more than a third of the total number of execution attempts — a record high even as capital punishment in the U.S. remain near a 30-year low.

"The country is moving away from the death penalty at the national level, while the states that are insistent on carrying out executions have been engaging in more and more extreme conduct in trying to do so," Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told NPR.

He also called the record number of botched execution attempts "conservative" because the dataset was limited to incidents in which the prisoner was inside the execution chamber.

"There were a number of executions that were called off even before they got to the execution because of failures to comply with the state protocol," Dunham said.

IV insertion is a common problem with lethal injection

This year, 18 people were executed in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri and Mississippi — all by lethal injection. Many of the difficulties this year were related to difficulty inserting an IV line.

"Lethal injection looks like a medical procedure, but it's not a medical procedure," Dunham said.

While most states permit for a physician to participate in an execution, every medical association says it is unethical to do so. As a result, it is prison personnel who administer the lethal drug. According to Dunham, executioners' lack of a medical background is among the reasons that lethal injection can be problematic.

The training that executioners receive is another issue. Some are given prosthetic arms to practice with, but those fail to capture the complexity of the human body, Dunham said.

Another reason why it may be difficult for staff to find a prisoners' vein is that people on death row disproportionately have health problems.

"The health of the individuals who are being scheduled for execution is worse. And stress affects health. Stress affects the accessibility to prisoners' veins," Dunham added.

More states are reckoning with lethal injection flaws

As of now, 37 states have abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in over a decade.

Last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown ordered for the state execution chamber to be dismantled, after commuting sentences of all 17 people on Oregon's death row.

Meanwhile, Alabama and Tennessee have both conducted reviews on its execution protocols after incidents of procedural errors that led to executions being called off or postponed.

The next execution nationwide is scheduled for Jan. 3 in Missouri. Amber McLaughlin, who is on death row after being found guilty of killing an ex-girlfriend, is expected to be the first openly transgender woman to be executed.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.