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Valley & State

  • Execution offers evidence against lethal injection

    ST. LOUIS (AP) — The nation's third botched execution in six months offers more evidence for the courts that lethal injection carries too many risks and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, death-row lawyers and other opponents said Thursday. Death-penalty opponents say an Arizona inmate who gasped for breath for more than 90 minutes showed that executions using different drugs and dosages are a callous trial-and-error process. The result: Every few months, a prisoner gasps, chokes and takes an unusually long time to die. "These executions are experiments on human subjects," said Cheryl Pilate, an attorney for several Missouri death-row inmates. "The potential for things to go wrong is almost unlimited." Lethal injection has been challenged in the courts many times, mostly without success. The biggest recent obstacle for death-penalty states has been obtaining lethal chemicals after major drugmakers stopped selling drugs for use in executions. That forced states to find alternative drugs. The drugs are mostly purchased from loosely regulated compounding pharmacies. Arizona, Texas, Florida and Missouri refuse to name the supplier and offer no details about how the drugs are tested or how executioners are trained. The Supreme Court will probably face increasing pressure to examine how American executions are carried out, said Deborah Denno, a Fordham University School of Law death penalty expert. "Every time this happens, it makes it far more difficult for a state corrections department to justify using a drug such as midazolam that's so consistently problematic, and to justify the secrecy," Denno said. Some death-penalty opponents are zeroing in on midazolam, a sedative commonly given to people with seizures. It was first used in an execution in October in Florida. This year, three of the 10 U.S. executions using the drug have gone wrong. The latest was Wednesday, when Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood took two hours to die. He was put to death for killing his former girlfriend and her father. Most lethal injections kill in a fraction of that time, often within 10 or 15 minutes. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered a review of the state's execution protocol. Wood's lawyer demanded an independent investigation. Governors in Ohio and Oklahoma ordered similar reviews after bungled executions in those states earlier this year. In January, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire snorted and gasped for 26 minutes before dying. State corrections officials have said they do not believe McGuire suffered, but they increased the drug dosage "to allay any remaining concerns." In April, Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after his execution began. The state's prison's chief directed the executioner to stop administering the drugs when he learned there was a problem with the IV. Both Arizona and Ohio used a two-drug protocol of midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. Oklahoma used a three-drug combination of midazolam, the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. State protocols on how to use midazolam vary greatly. Some inject it as part of a two-drug method, others three. The amount of the drug given also varies. Ohio used 10 milligrams of midazolam in the McGuire execution. Oklahoma's protocol calls for 100 milligrams. Florida uses 500 milligrams. "They don't know," Denno said. "We don't have experts on how to inject someone to death." Texas and Missouri, two of the most active death penalty states, use the single drug pentobarbital. Still, death row lawyers say the same potential exists for problems to occur. Pilate and James Rytting, a Houston lawyer who represents several condemned inmates in Texas, plan to cite the botched Arizona execution in appeals for inmates awaiting execution. "These agonizing and horrifying situations are going to happen," Rytting said. Texas plans no changes based on what happened in Arizona, corrections spokesman Jason Clark said, noting that Texas uses pentobarbital. "The agency has used this protocol since 2012 and has carried out 33 executions without complication," Clark said. Ohio corrections spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the state is "always evaluating" policies to ensure executions "are carried out in a humane and lawful manner." Florida death-row attorney Sonya Rudenstine said it's possible that Florida inmates also have suffered. "We haven't had the kind of display of agony in Florida that there has been in the other states," but that's because the state first gives prisoners a paralyzing agent, Rudenstine said. She has asked the state to eliminate the paralytic drug during the upcoming execution of inmate Paul Howell, but the Department of Corrections refused. She said Howell made the request because the paralytic causes pain and could prevent authorities from knowing if he has a bad reaction to midazolam. In Louisiana, corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde said the department is "considering alternative methods of execution, including the most effective drugs and dosage levels" for lethal injections.

  • Jury starts deliberating in police officer's death

    PHOENIX (AP) — A jury in Phoenix has started deliberating in the murder trial of a man charged with fatally shooting a Glendale police officer during a 2007 traffic stop. The Maricopa County Superior Court jury began deliberations Thursday in the case of Bryan Wayne Hulsey. He is charged with murder in the killing of Glendale Officer Anthony Holly. Hulsey was a passenger in a vehicle that had been pulled over for speeding and not having a license plate. Holly was there to serve as backup to another officer who made the stop. Hulsey is also charged with attempted first-degree murder. His attorneys have denied he killed Holly and instead suggested that Holly was unintentionally shot by the officer who pulled over the vehicle.

  • Phoenix man sentenced in attack on mother

    PHOENIX (AP) — A man has been sentenced to 8.5 years in prison for stabbing his mother at a Phoenix restaurant and then attempting to behead her last year. Maricopa County Superior Court officials say Michael Lee Hansen was sentenced Thursday. He had pleaded guilty in June to attempted second-degree murder after being arrested in July 2013. According to police, he allegedly punched his mother, knocked her unconscious and stabbed her around her neck and hands. Police said he told police he hit her and was attempting to cut off her head.


  • Obama aide says impeachment threat taken seriously

    WASHINGTON - One of President Barack Obama's top advisers says the White House takes seriously the possibility that House Republicans could pursue impeachment of the president. Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer told reporters Friday that the GOP has already "opened the door for impeachment" by contemplating suing the president over his use of executive authority. He says that any further executive action Obama may sign this year on immigration will "up the likelihood" of Republicans pursuing that path. Pfeiffer was dismissive about how good a case Republicans could make to come up with impeachable offenses. But he says it would be foolish to discount the possibility that Republicans would at least consider pursuing impeachment.

  • Feds cap fines for not buying health insurance

    MIAMI (AP) — Federal officials have capped the amount of money scofflaws will be forced to pay if they don't buy insurance this year at $2,448 per person and $12,240 for a family of five.The amount is equal to the national average annual premium for a bronze level health plan. But only those with an income above about a quarter of a million dollars would benefit from the cap. Those making less would still have to pay as much as 1 percent of their annual income.The penalty for the first year starts at $95 per adult or $47.50 per child under 18. The penalty for not buying insurance increases to 2 percent of income or $325, whichever is higher, for 2015. The fines are due when people file their 2014 taxes.The figures, released late Thursday, are important because the White House has only provided theoretical caps in the past. Conservative lawmakers and groups that are critical of the Affordable Care Act encouraged consumers to skip buying insurance, arguing it would be cheaper to pay a $95 penalty, but often failed to mention the 1 percent clause.The uninsured will owe 1/12th of the annual payment for each month they or their dependents don't have either coverage or an exemption, according to the IRS.Federal researchers predict that about 4 million people, including dependents, could be hit with fines by 2016. The Congressional Budget Office had previously projected 6 million would pay fines, but dropped the estimate because more people will be exempt from the law, partly due to changes in regulations.

  • UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children's clothing scattered in the courtyard. Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the shelling, which wounded dozens and came on the deadliest day so far of the current round of fighting. However, the Israeli military said the school "was not a target in any way" and raised the possibility the compound was hit by Hamas rockets. Ominously, meanwhile, violence spread to the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians protesting the Gaza fighting clashed with Israeli soldiers late Thursday in Qalandia, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. At least one Palestinian was killed and dozens were injured, a Palestinian doctor said. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon angrily denounced the Gaza attack, saying the killing must "stop now." But the frantic diplomatic efforts spanning the region were running into a brick wall: Israel demands that Hamas stop firing rockets without conditions, while Gaza's Islamic militant rulers insist the seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory must end first. "Many have been killed — including women and children, as well as U.N. staff," Ban said in a statement, though he did not elaborate and a later U.N. communique made no mention of humanitarian workers being among the casualties. In the aftermath of the attack, a child's sandal decorated with a yellow flower lay in a puddle of blood, while sheep and cattle belonging to those seeking shelter grazed in the grass nearby. A large scorch mark scarred the spot where one of the shells hit. Dozens of wounded, including many children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital as sirens wailed. The U.N. said it had been trying to achieve a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the evacuation of civilians from the area. Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said people were boarding buses when three tank shells hit. "We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it," he said. It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in Gaza fighting since the Israeli operation began on July 8. UNRWA, the U.N's Palestinian refugee agency, has said it discovered dozens of Hamas rockets hidden inside two vacant schools, but U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the school hit Thursday in the northern town of Beit Hanoun was not one of them. The U.N. has also expressed alarm that rockets found in the schools have gone missing after they were turned over to local authorities in Gaza. "Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children," U.N. staff and anyone seeking shelter there, a U.N. statement said. Who launched the attack against the U.N. compound in Beit Hanoun also was under dispute. The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells hit the school. But Israel's chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, said the military was investigating and it was too early to know if the deaths were caused by an errant Israeli shell or Hamas fire. "We are not ruling out the possibility that it was Hamas fire," he said. Another army spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said there had been Hamas fighting in the area. "We do not target the U.N. We do not target civilians. There was no target in the school. Gunmen were attacking soldiers near the facility. The school was not a target in any way," Lerner said. The military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the shelling incident, Almoz said, adding that there had been an increase in Hamas attacks from the area in recent days. "Despite repeated calls from the military to the U.N. and international organizations to stop the shooting from there because it endangers our forces, we decided to respond. In parallel to our fire there was Hamas fire at the school," Almoz said. Fighting was fierce across Gaza on Thursday, and at least 119 Palestinians were killed, making it the bloodiest day of the 17-day war. That raised the overall Palestinian death toll to at least 803, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground war. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire. Israel says the war is meant to halt the relentless rocket fire on its cities by Palestinian militants in Gaza and to destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels that Hamas is using to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks inside communities near the border. Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas. The attack on Beit Hanoun was likely to increase pressure on international diplomats shuttling around the region in an effort to broker a cease-fire. Days of feverish negotiations appeared close to an agreement early Friday that would allow a week-long pause in the fighting while regional officials broker new talks between Hamas and Israel toward a lasting cease-fire. Details of the agreement, first reported by Israeli media, would let Israeli forces remain in Gaza to continue destroying Hamas's tunnel network. The deal could also let more Palestinians living in Gaza enter Egypt at the Rafah border crossing where their access is currently limited. The humanitarian pause in fighting could begin this weekend, and would coincide with the Monday start of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. A senior U.S. official who participated in the talks cautioned that negotiations were continuing into early Friday, and that no agreement had yet been reached. The official described a range of ideas that represented proposals and demands from all sides involved. The official was not authorized to be named in discussing the negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity. Heading late Thursday night into a third meeting with Ban over the last four days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "we still have more work to do." "So we're going to keep at it," Kerry said. "It's so imperative to try to find a way forward." Kerry has been in Cairo, Israel and Ramallah since Monday to press regional leaders for a solution. He spoke repeatedly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar to press for a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders and so relies on Turkey and Qatar as a go-between to negotiate with the militant group that controls Gaza. Above all, the U.S. wants at least a temporary truce before it tries to usher Israel and Hamas through negotiations that could take years to resolve. The last cease-fire brokered by the U.S. took effect in November 2012. Hamas demands the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to an end to the 7-year-old economic blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamic militant group violently seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border tunnels that had sustained Gaza's economy, while also being used by the militants to smuggle in arms. Netanyahu made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats. "We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel ... and we shall return it," he said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Israel. More than 2,300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered 31 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to try to carry out attacks inside Israel. On Thursday, soldiers detained two militants as they emerged from such a tunnel, the army said.

Featured columns

  • OPINION: Obama desecrates Constitution’s separation of powers

    I was astonished and angered to read last week that the American Civil Liberties Union gathered “a coalition of 45 civil rights, human rights, privacy rights and faith-based organizations (and) sent a letter to President Obama asking for ‘a full public accounting of ... practices’” related to the NSA’s spying on five leading American Muslims.Sure, it’s a legitimate complaint, so why am I angry? Because instead of requesting this “full public accounting,” the ACLU should be organizing with other presumed guardians of our individual constitutional liberties to demand that impeachment proceedings begin against Obama, the most flagrant presidential violator of the Constitution in our history.This is for the sake of our very identity as Americans.On Dec. 4, 2013, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who has often appeared in this column through the years, testified before the House Judiciary Committee about Obama’s constant desecration of the Constitution’s separation of powers:“The problem with what the president is doing is that he is not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system. He’s becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid. That is the concentration of power in any single branch.”Did you reread the Declaration of Independence on July 4? Remember what King George III was doing to so powerfully suppress the colonists that it led to our American Revolution?

  • OPINION: America’s heart is at stake

    Based on some reactions, you’d think Pope Francis himself is giving unaccompanied minors rides in his Popemobile into the United States, encouraging the dangerous journey and chaos at the end of the road.Some are reacting to this headline: “Pope Francis calls on U.S. to welcome illegal immigrants.” His message though, wasn’t a call to abolish borders and law, but to see the humanity, for goodness’ sake.What this shepherd of the leading charitable organization in the world said was that people of good will cannot tolerate a “throwaway culture.” This happens to be a leading theme of his papacy. We so often don’t even look at the person next to us on an elevator. So, of course, women and children and men showing up on our border - what is clearly both a humanitarian crisis and a political headache - wanting a better life is abstract and foreign to most of us at best.In a message to a conference on migration in Mexico, Pope Francis addressed our current border situation: “I would ... like to draw attention to the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence.” They’ve largely made the trip, he wrote, from Central America and Mexico “under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain. They are increasing day by day.” He described it as a humanitarian emergency that “requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”However, he said: “These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin.”Instead of demanding the U.S. open its borders to whomever, whenever, the pope implored, “this challenge demands the attention of the entire international community so that new forms of legal and secure migration may be adopted.”

  • Sunscreens: 5 skin-saving facts

    Sunscreen may be big business, with sales topping $1 billion last year, but not nearly enough of us seem to buy into its importance, says Consumer Reports. More than half of the respondents in a new Consumer Reports survey say they usually skip sunscreen.It’s not surprising, then, that the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancers, the most common types, has reached alarming proportions — up 77 percent in the past 14 years — and rates of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, have also increased. Knowing the facts can save your birthday suit — and possibly your life.1. You’re never too old to start wearing sunscreen. By age 40, you’ve racked up only half of your lifetime dose of UV rays; by age 60, just 74 percent. And for those older than 50, being in the sun sans protection can be particularly dangerous.“Over the years, your body begins to lose its ability to repair the cell damage created by the sun’s rays, making you more susceptible to skin cancer,” says Dr. Steven Wang, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, N.J, and a member of the photobiology committee of the Skin Cancer Foundation, which has corporate sponsors, including sunscreen manufacturers. “At the same time, your immune system, which plays a major role in halting the growth of skin cancers, weakens.” That goes a long way toward explaining why most skin cancers are found on older people who have spent a lot of time in the sun.2. Covering up should be your first priority. Research shows that people who rely on sunscreens alone tend to burn more than those who stay in the shade and wear long sleeves. “Sunscreens are just one tool,” Wang says. Avoid the sun or stay in the shade when the sun is the strongest (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and dress right for the occasion. Wear a hat and clothing that’s made from tightly woven fabric. (Dark colors are better at blocking UV rays.) Specially made fashions with built-in sun protection (you’ll see them labeled as UPF, for “ultraviolet protection factor”) might be more lightweight and comfortable than regular clothing.3. Sunscreen can give you a false sense of security. It’s a common misconception that if you’re wearing sunscreen, you can stay in the sun for as long as you like. Some studies show an association between sunscreen use and an increased risk of skin cancer, probably because users felt more protected and increased their sun time — often without reapplying. (That’s a habit that hasn’t changed; almost 40 percent of respondents in the survey said they rarely or never reapply sunscreen.) Sunscreen is protective, but it’s not a magic bullet.

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